Friday, 29 May 2020

20 Years on: Town fans' memories of the day Ipswich won promotion

Monday 29th May was, without a doubt, the best day of my life: when my beloved Blues reached the Division One Play Offs and George Burley’s heroes lifted us up to the promised land of the Premier League.

Hearing and seeing so many club legends recall the magnificent events of the day has been giving me goosebumps all week, and it made me wonder what different memories our fans might have to share.

Each of us experienced it in a different way, so I’ve asked Ipswich fans on Twitter and Facebook to share their favourite memories from our momentous trip to Wembley:

Travelling there

As a season-ticket-holders who lived in Cambridge, my Dad, middle sister and I travelled to London via the A11 and it wasn’t until we almost reached the M11 that we started to notice other blue scarfs flying from car windows.

We spotted one parked up on a layby just before we hit the motorway, a group of young men stood around looking at the flat tyre, yet still in high spirits as we waved and cheered to them on our way past.

To this day, we still turn to each other when we drive past that spot and remember that moment, it felt like the beginning of the Blue Army coming together for this special day.

Setting off from Ipswich was clearly a special experience, Kevin Higham left his home in Leicestershire at 4 am to drive to Portman Road:

‘Me, my Dad and my Grandad then travelled down to Wembley with the Town fans and when we got there saw a sea of blue and red on Wembley Way. They have both since passed away, so these are really treasured memories.

Andrew Perkins travelled down by club coach: 

‘I could only get one ticket and ended up heading there by myself, but the rest of the fans were in good voice! I remember the A12 was closed and we had to detour through Essex to get on M25.’

As did Colin Love:

‘The A12 was full of cars with scarves and flags hanging out of the windows, and then on the return trip people stood on the bridges waving flags and scarves at all the fans travelling home.’

While Professional Darts player and fellow Ipswich fan Kevin Painter almost didn’t make the game:

‘On the weekend of the play-off final, I was at a competition in North Wales. I left the camp at 6am on the morning of the match and headed to pick up a couple of pals.’

‘Somewhere along the M6, I had a blow-out! But I managed to get to my friends in Cambridgeshire to switch cars and then on to the game. Things could have turned out much worse!’

Many of our fans travelled huge distances to be there, like Andrew Tilly:

‘This is the only game I've ever been to. I flew over from New Zealand just to see it and back home again four days later. I was in heaven all day!’

And others watched it from home, like Frankie:

‘I was only 11. I remember running around the garden in celebration afterwards and getting told off for being too loud!’

Or even followed it while sat outside the ground, like Andrew Woodfield:

‘My dad could only get 2 tickets so he took my older brother (despite him being a Manchester United fan at the time).’

‘But we were due to go on holiday that day, so my mum and I sat in the car and listened to it on the radio!’

‘Even though I was technically at Wembley that day, I didn’t see a ball get kicked and I’ve never let my dad get away with it!’

Arriving at Wembley:

Once we arrived at the stadium, I remember my Dad parking up at the side of the road – something that definitely wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.

As we joined Wembley Way about halfway up, I was absolutely blown away by the blue, white and red colours and the hubbub of cheerful chants all around me.

Gareth Cook recalls playing football in the car park against Barnsley fans, while Laura Bilner tells me her 9-year-old-self greeted Barnsley supporters with a chant of ‘Blue Army’!

Our tickets meant we were seated quite centrally in the ground, almost next to the halfway line, a position that meant we could clearly see the cup being lifted later on.

Do others remember where they sat?

Andrew Perkins, who told me earlier he travelled by coach on his own, arrived at his seat to find it was right next to where his mates were sat after all!

A few fans recall the strange weather just before kick-off, something I had completely forgotten:

Dan Thomas remembers: ‘The hail storm about five minutes before kick-off.’

And Krissy Day told me:

‘I remember pre-kick off, it absolutely fell down with rain. I was thinking maybe the game won’t go ahead.’

‘But then the clouds parted and Wembley was bathed in sunshine.’

Barnsley score:

You all know how the game went, I think I’ve memorised every second of my Play Off Final DVD, so I won’t relive the details here. But it is interesting seeing which parts of the match were most memorable for those of us watching from the stands.

Starting with the moment we went a goal behind as a shot from Craig Hignett rebounded off the bar, only to hit the back of home-grown keeper Richard Wright’s arm and go into the back of the net.

Peter Abbott says: ‘I remember going 1-0 down and turning to my wife and saying, ‘not a problem we can win this.’ The day just felt like it was ours.’

And I have to say, I completely agree. It’s probably the last time I felt truly confident that Town would win a game!

Mogga makes it 1:1

Mark Dowling flew over from Dublin on the morning of the game and walked round Wembley Way for hours trying to get a ticket. He finally bought one from a tout for £150, but it was in the Barnsley end!

‘When we scored, I jumped up – but quickly had to shout about Barnsley’s bad defensive errors to cover myself.’

‘By the time third goal went, in the lad sitting next to me gave me the nod to suggest he was a Tractor Boy also.’  

Super-sub Naylor makes it 2:1

Again, we’ve all discussed for hours the day that Richard Naylor booked his place in the Ipswich Town Hall of Fame with a phenomenal performance after replacing the injured David Johnson.

Bam – Bam has long been one of my favourite players, I was lucky enough to interview him while he was Club Captain under Magilton and when he later played at Doncaster.

I’m certain it was that day which cemented him in my list of top 5 ever players!

David Pascoe sent me an excellent piece on this topic, ‘The Redemption of Bam-Bam’, which you can check out here.

Stewart puts us two goals ahead

For me, this was the best goal of the day: the build-up was superb and the way the player’s joined together for a seamless strike on goal was indicative of how well that team had been built.

Daniel Blowers agrees, but for another reason: 

‘Stewart’s header was great because we were singing, ‘are you watching Norwich’, just as the ball was played down the left side of the pitch in front of us.’

‘It was a great header, not that Mowbray’s wasn’t!’

Reuser’s goal:

But I dare say there’s one moment that every single Town fan remembers from that day.

Remember when Manchester City secured the Premier League title in 2012? Well, this is our ‘Agueeeeeeeeeerrooooo moment’.

Christopher Overett told me: 

‘Stewart’s was the best goal technically, but my favourite has to be Reuser’s at the end. It put an end to the agony of the final 11 mins of the game, thinking every time they got near our goal they’d equalise.’

Kev Sherwood added: ‘When Reuser scored scored the 4th everyone went nuts but all I could do was sink into my seat out of shear relief and exhaustion with ears running down my cheeks because we’d finally done it after years of hurt.

Daniel Blowers recalls: ‘George Burley and Dale Roberts celebrating on the touchline when Bam- Bam put Reuser in and he finished it.’

While Nic Wright remembers: ‘The top tier of the stand bouncing as we jumped up and down each time we celebrated our goals!’

Remember Andrew Woodfield from earlier who was listening to the game on the radio, his recollection of this moment is special too:

‘What I remember most was after the goals, we’d turn the radio off and here the insane noise from inside the ground!’ 

And Jack Saunders sums things up perfectly when he describes a sense of relief:

‘I just remember this overwhelming feeling of dread, right up until Reuser's goal. I just knew we were going to mess it up, right up until we didn't.’

It’s my Dad’s favourite moment too. Speaking to him just before writing this article, he described the reaction from the crowd as ‘an explosion of joy.’

He’s always been very reserved at games, but as my sister and I looked round to him to celebrate, we found him with his arms around the two supporters in front of us – absolutely elated.

To this day, that is one of my most treasured memories of him and of life as a football fan.

Reaction to the game:

Then the final whistle blew, and we had finally made it. At the fourth time of asking we had one the Play-Offs and secured our spot in the Premier League for the following season.

Andrew Perkins tells me: ‘I was in tears of happiness at the end!

While Mark Dowling, the fan who was sat in the Barnsley seats decided to finally inform the policeman standing beside him that he was in the ‘wrong end’:

‘He let me walk over to the celebrating fans and I watched Matt Holland lift the cup amongst our fans. It was a great day and a great experience.’

Jack Saunders had a great view of this moment:

‘Our seats were right next to the steps and I remember everyone clambering over us to get closer to the players.’

‘But I was right at the end of the row, so I got a high five from every single player as they went past.’

‘I also got to throw my scarf to Matt Holland, which is one of the three scarves he's wearing in all the photographs!’

The celebrations carried on long into the night:

In his recent interview with Blue Monday, skipper Matt Holland talks about the journey home with the players (there was a lot of beer involved) and how he went back to see his Dad once they were back.

And it’s true that most of us have special memories from the day that took place well after the final whistle had blown.

As my Dad, sister and I pulled up the drive in front of our house we were greeted by my Mum standing at the door in an Ipswich Town shirt.

Never before had she worn one, and she usually didn’t even know the result of a match until a few days later – but that evening she knew and she joined us in the celebrations!

I’ll leave you with some more memories of those final hours of the bank holiday, my thanks to everyone who has contributed to this heart-warming article:

Simon Mason:

‘After we’d sung and cheered our hearts out in the stadium, I remember the walk back along Wembley Way towards the underground station.’

‘It was so packed that the police were stopping groups of fans from both clubs together to prevent a crush at the station.’

‘The noise level dropped to almost a whisper for what seemed like ages, partly out of respect for Barnsley’s position - after all, Ipswich knew Play-Off defeat heartache more than anyone at that time.’

‘Years later, after Barnsley won a cracking Play-Off final against Swansea to return to the Championship, I had a look at one of the Barnsley fans’ forums and found many Ipswich fans congratulating the Tykes on their win - and plenty of goodwill coming back from the reds.’

Jack Saunders: 

‘I remember getting back into Ipswich and driving around the town, all the horns blaring, people waving, like nothing I'd seen before or since!’

Jack Todd:

'I remember so much of that game, but one of THE most memorable things was driving back into Suffolk and seeing the fans who hadn’t managed to go to Wembley on bridges and at the sides of the road with waving flags and scarves. Absolutely electrifying! 

Kevin Higham, mentioned earlier telling us how he travelled from Leicestershire:

The drive back up the M1 home was great as well, driving passed the Barnsley fans with my Town flag out of the window. Sadly, both my Dad and Grandad have passed away, so that day holds many special memories and not just because of the result.’

And finally, a random one from ‘Super Frans’ which I simply couldn’t leave out:

‘Going into the urinal after the game to find myself standing next to Roger Osborne. God’s honest truth. Surreal moment.’

What are your favourite memories from that day? Let me know in the comments below!

My thanks to Stuart Goldsmith who provided the lovely photos for this article, I was shocked to find I have no photos at all from that day - something that would never happen now, my phone comes with me everywhere!

I'll be celebrating this special anniversary all day over on Twitter, so please feel free to come and say hello!  

The Redemption of Bam Bam: Guest Post

This week marks the 20th Anniversary of Ipswich Town's Play-Off Final victory over Barnsley at Wembley.

I've been asking fellow Blues fans to share their favourite memories from the day, and I will be sharing those shortly.

However, amongst the submissions was this fantastic recollection from the ever-eloquent David Pascoe, an Ipswich fan since the mid-1980's, and I felt it deserved a post all on its own.

So, grab a cup of tea (or pint if you're celebrating already) and enjoy his thoughts on the arguably unexpected impact that striker Richard Naylor had on our special day:


This was the rant I launched into as I watched a recording of the Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg, between Ipswich and Bolton at the Reebok Stadium on 16 May 1999.  

My rant was the bursting of a dam which had been waiting to flood out from the moment Town’s chances of getting automatic promotion had been taken out of their hands. 

They had suffered a late loss to Crewe, with two games left to play.  

I was worried but convinced that it would all be okay, I was sure that Bradford would falter and when they drew 0-0 with Oxford the following weekend, I thought I had been proven right. 

I continued to laugh in fate’s mocking face as Town went to Birmingham the following day and James Scowcroft twice had headers cleared off the line, before the home side scored the only goal of the game. 

"No, we’ve got this," I said, trying to remain upbeat. "There’s still a twist to come."

Bradford had to travel Wolves

A side whose late run saw them trying to break into the Play-Off positions. 

While we were at home to Sheffield United, a side with nothing to play for. 

We did our job, the game was over by half-time, but although Bradford won their game 3-2, with a little help from one of the Molineux goalposts.  

It would not be the first time that Paul Jewell would inflict a harmful blow on Ipswich Town.  

But I was still positive and wanted to say to the tearful Kieron Dyer and that Town fan whose footage gets used whenever Sky do a package about 'Ipswich wanting to avoid any more Play-off Pain': 

"It's still going to be OK.  No-one loses three times in the Play-Offs and neither will we." 

"Wembley, here we come," said George Burley on Ceefax, in the immediate aftermath of the Sheffield United match. 

Watching that first leg the following weekend, I felt my rictus grin of optimism start to buckle and strain as the ball repeatedly failed to fall for Town when they were in attacking positions.

When Mark Halsey turned down penalty appeals, when David Johnson was brought down by, was it Mark Fish?  

Anyway, with the score goalless and the 70-minute mark passed, suddenly Richard Naylor was through one-on-one. This was the moment, surely? 

But, no..! 

As he went into the box, he trod on the ball and by the time he had got it out of his feet, Steve Banks was able to dive on to it. 

That was when I lost it. 

To be fair, I think the rant was encompassing disgust at the whole squad for how they had bottled the last few weeks of the season. 

But nevertheless, it was Bam Bam who took the brunt of my stored up angst when history seemed to be repeating itself and he tripped over his own bootlaces.  

There was a further explosion of invective when Michael Johansen scored the only goal of the game, but with it came a certain serenity, as for the first time in weeks I accepted that we would fail.  

The second leg was titanic but I was in a state of neutrality throughout.  I couldn’t believe it would happen anymore; it either would or wouldn’t and thanks to away goal rules, it didn’t.  

What did the future hold?

I hadn’t a clue, but if I’d been George Burley then it’s probable that Richard Naylor would have been sold.

But he wasn’t sold and at the beginning of the following season, he was an automatic pick and was scoring goals. 

At least he was until injury inevitably sidelined him to the substitutes’ bench again.  

By the time he was fit, he was fourth choice in any line-up behind Johnson, Scowcroft and new signing Marcus Stewart.  

Yet on the day of the Play-Off Final in May 2000, after 20-minutes of the game, an outplayed Town were a goal down to Barnsley.

The man who I had excoriated so viciously a year before was getting ready to come on to replace the injured Johnson. 

On the bench behind him, dressed in a suit rather than his kit was Scowcroft, who had been ruled out before the game. 

For myself, I hoped that the Naylor who had played those early games of the 99-00 season would be coming on and that maybe Stewart could snaffle a chance, or perhaps we could work something from a set-piece. 

If we were to do this, Naylor would be crucial to it with his physicality and never-say-die spirit.  

What no-one counted on, least of all me, was that on this day Bam Bam would not only bring into the game all the things that we knew he could do, but a whole load of things that we never knew he had in him. 

Touch, control, passing, thought, finesse.

Through him, the Town performance improved by around 20% and every time he got the ball, something looked like it would happen.

Barnsley simply could not cope with him.

He looked lethal, he looked focussed. 

He looked like he knew...

Here, on the biggest stage in British football and in a fixture that had taunted us like a mirage for four years, our fourth-choice striker was having the fabled 'Game Of His Life'. 

His goal put us ahead, then a takedown from a long ball by Mark Venus led to the ball being crossed in for Stewart to make it 3-1.

When summarising that takedown on the ITV highlights, Ron Atkinson mentioned Richard Naylor in the same sentence as Stanley Matthews and Ferenc Puskas - never as great a player as either of them, but on this day, he played just like them, just when we needed him to.

And finally, the characteristic Bam-Bam fight to dig out the loose ball in a centre-circle scrimmage and set up:


He should have been awarded the Man of the Match title. 

He bent that game to his will and decisively stamped his authority on it in a way which galvanised his team-mates. 

It was also a decisive moment for him, 4 years after his debut, he had finally arrived as a footballer.

It would take a move to central defence before he truly established longevity at Ipswich, but his place in a line-up was now a symbol of a truly “good” player turning out for us.

With that, my 1999 rant turned to ashes in my memory.

As the injuries settled down, he had a career to look back on with some satisfaction. 

10 years later, he would be on the winning side against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup with Leeds United, the photos of him running alongside Wayne Rooney still make me smile. 

In assessing Richard Naylor’s career, one is tempted to use that well-worn phrase, “He got the maximum out of his ability.”

But at the 2000 Play-Off Final, he went beyond the limits of his ability in a way he never had before or subsequently.

And, for that, he earned the undying gratitude of every Ipswich Town supporter.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Is regionalisation the answer to helping clubs in League One and Two survive Coronavirus?

Plans are afoot for deciding how and when football will return to our lives and one of the options allegedly being considered is regionalisation of League One and Two.

We find ourselves living a strange ‘new normal’ at the moment, where the Coronavirus is touching everything in our lives, including football.

We have no idea when or how the beautiful game will return, and I have even less idea of when I will be seeing my friends again.

There has been lots of speculation, suggestions range from cramming the remaining season into 56 days, to playing the matches behind closed doors or, of course, cancelling it all together.

Whatever happens, this situation is expected to take its financial toll on many clubs, and for some it may mean they cannot survive into next season.

As a result, a proposal has been put forward that we consider introducing a North and South divide to the leagues below the Championship: an idea which fills me with a fear.

Recently, I was asked to share my thoughts on this with the East Anglian Daily Times, but it's such a lengthy discussion I have decided to share a little more detail below.

If the proposed changes were to take place it would make it much harder for me to attend games, the football supporting life I know and love might never return.

For those who don’t know, I moved from East Anglia to Yorkshire just over ten years ago and, though I struggle to make home games these days, I regularly attend away games – especially those in the north.

I understand the arguments put forward to support making these changes to the league, but here are my main arguments against it:

Not all fans live locally to their club

When the cup draw allotted us Manchester United away back in 2015, I finally got to see The Blues play at the famed Old Trafford for the first time in my life.

Though I was born in Ipswich, I grew up down the road in Cambridge. At secondary school, I was one of only three Ipswich fans in a sea of ‘Manchester United fans’.

So it was a game I could not miss and I was proud to hear the Town fans in fine voice, singing: ‘We support our local club’ to a packed stadium of United fans.

But the truth is, these days there are a great number of us who do not, in fact, support our local club.

In general, people are far more transient, many do not stay in their birth town for their whole life. 

Perhaps because of their job, perhaps for university, perhaps – like me – they meet someone and settle down elsewhere.

In the suburbs of Leeds, where I live, there’s an army of Ipswich fans who travel to away games. 

Even more so across Yorkshire and the whole of the north, we even have our own branch of the ITFC supporters club.

Conversely, there is some incredible support for the team from the south-west of the country in Bristol, Devon and even Cornwall.

And it’s not just Town, there are fans from every club in the country based up here in West Yorkshire, including Cambridge United.

One of those is a friend of mine, Chris Vessey, who I met at the Wetherspoons pub at Leeds train station on my way home from a northern away day.

He and his friend had just been to see the Amber Army play and it was great for me to meet a fellow East Anglian living in Leeds.

Given the fact the Amber Army have been reported as supporting the proposed regional changes and that Cambridge have experience of how the north/south divide can affect a club in East Anglia, I asked for his thoughts on this debate:

‘I couldn’t be more against it,’ he told me. ‘Whilst I can see the pros (e.g. initially higher attendances from more local fixtures), the cons heavily outweigh them.’

‘The beauty of following your team home and away in the lower leagues is those far-flung Tuesday night games at places like Carlisle and Exeter that you hold like a badge of honour.’

Chris points out this is the case for most clubs:

‘For instance, Carlisle have a 200 strong supporters club in London, hence why their away support down South is so good - why deprive them of 'local' games at Leyton Orient and Stevenage to name just two?’

Reducing this league to a regional one would have a huge impact on those of us who live a long way away and I’ve heard several of my northern Blues friends say they would no longer go to games if this were to happen.

It makes no sense

Supporters argue that making these changes would reduce travel costs for the clubs: teams would not only pay less for travel, but for accommodation and so on.

But, let’s be honest, wherever Town are playing, are they really going to depend on East Anglia’s oh-so-reliable dual carriageways to get them to games on time?

Would you want to leave Ipswich in the morning and travel up the A14 for a game at 3pm and risk getting stuck in one of the many stretches of roadworks?

Surely, it is more likely that clubs would want to stay overnight before a game to allow themselves to prepare properly.

What’s more, it’s probable that in a southern league we would have to travel to places like Plymouth and Exeter (which are over 300 miles away).

As lovely as it would be to head to the south coast for a day out, it is further away from Ipswich than Fleetwood (around 280 miles away), the club at the centre of this debate.

Cambridge United fan Chris agrees:

‘There are logistical problems, particularly for Cambridge, we have flitted between the North and South in both the League Cup draws and EFL trophy in recent years.’

‘In the National League North you have an imbalance in geography: Hereford, Gloucester, Leamington and Brackley are all in the north split – and those teams are as northern as jellied eels!’

Another example is Gateshead, who currently play in the National League North and have to travel to Hereford and Gloucester for their away games.

There is no way you could set the league up that doesn’t leave someone still having to travel a long way for games. It simply wouldn’t work.

It’s a step back

Did you know that back in 1957, back when there was a north/south divide in football’s Third Division, Ipswich Town won the league and were promoted? (Thanks to my Dad for the history lesson on that one!)

The following year, the regional divide was removed and the football league moved closer to the structure that we know today.

As much as I would love to re-live us winning a league, I’m not sure a return to the 50’s is really what football needs.

For one thing, only the champions from each region was promoted, there was no play off competition at all.

Play-off competitions aren’t universally popular, but without them you have the potential for one team to run away with the title early on and the rest of the league having nothing left to play for.

Let’s say this problem is countered and they do decide to run a play-off competition, perhaps with one additional team from each region going up, that would logically mean four clubs must be relegated from the Championship.

But what if those four clubs come from the same region? You’re going to end up with a situation where clubs have to move from one region to another each year, something that has happened with Coventry in the past, as well as Cambridge as Chris explained.   

It’s not clear who supports the proposal

It does appear that this is simply speculation from some sections of our media, research shows there doesn’t seem to be any official support for the suggestion.

Fleetwood chairman Andy Pilley has been widely credited with pushing the idea during an interview with the BBC, but even he has clarified on Twitter that he didn’t actually suggest this is the right way to go.

What he did say is that all options should be considered, which is understandable and sensible – I just hope the idea is vetoed swiftly.

Conversely, Gillingham boss Steve Evans has added his vote to the ‘for’ column, claiming: ‘I have said privately for many years that if you did it north and south there would be more interest.’

Frankly, anything Steve Evans agrees with goes down as a bad idea in my book.

It’s not solving the main problem in football

I understand that football is a business and huge changes are going to need to be made after social distancing restrictions have been lifted if it is to survive this challenging time.

But I can’t help feeling this is sticking a plaster over the matter and hoping the actual problems in football will magically go away.

For a long time now, finances in football have been cause for concern and wide debate, most clubs run at a loss and many in the lower leagues are facing going out of business altogether.

The gap between the Premier League and the Championship is vast. Likewise, as we have seen this year, there is a huge gulf in quality between the Championship and League One.

Wouldn’t adding regional leagues simply make that divide even bigger? Even harder to overcome?

The Football League is already top-heavy when it comes to finances, this season alone we’ve seen Bury and Bolton face extinction in an extraordinary situation which included a Wanderers team of youth players pitted against our newly relegated team of Championship stalwarts.

In his interview with the BBC, Andy Pilley raised exactly this point, suggesting that better control on player’s wages is what is really needed to help clubs become more sustainable.

To my mind, the regional league ignores the core problem in football at the moment and will only lead to more problems down the road.

The suggested changes to the league would change the face of football forever, and not in a good way. I for one will be hoping it never happens.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Has gut-wrenching injury time at Blackpool ended hopes of Ipswich getting promoted?

During the train ride home from Lancashire late on Saturday evening, I had something of a revelation. It came in the form of a group of Accrington Stanley fans, who boarded the train inexplicably cheerily from their goalless draw at Bolton Wanderers.

We got chatting and I was telling them how awful I think League One is and how gutted I am that we are more than likely going to spend another year in this division.

One of them said to me, ‘You’re not good enough to go up though, are you?’

‘Yes, we are,’ I responded.

We were unbeaten until October, we were only relegated last year, we’ve got the biggest squad in the league… blah, blah, blah.

None of it was enough to convince them, and rightly so.

The hard truth is, we might think this is a terrible league (and the lack of quality in both games and officials certainly lends itself to that argument), but that - sadly - is our level now.

Gone are the days where people hear ‘Ipswich Town’ and think of Sir Bobby Robson and our glory days, Mattie Holland and our stint in the Premier League, or even Mick McCarthy and his budget heroes of 2015.

Instead, they wonder what on earth has happened at Portman Road... and that fall from grace makes my stomach churn.

Pleading for those Accrington fans to ‘just look at our history, because we’re a big club’, was laughable – those years don’t matter anymore. 

We’re going to have to earn our place in the hearts of neutral football fans again, by somehow getting out of this hole we’ve dug.

A game plenty of neutral fans will have loved watching

We spent the first ten minutes trying to work out what formation Lambert had gone for and I think we settled on 3-5-2, but I do wonder how difficult it must be for the players being asked to play different roles so frequently.

Despite this, the first half was a competent performance. 

Blackpool barely tested us because, in my opinion, the defence was solid. I was impressed with how calm Woolfie and Chambers remained and it gave me some level of confidence we could pull out a result.

The trouble is, we weren’t testing their defence either and, as I saw someone on Twitter quip, we should perhaps have brought along a deckchair for their keeper.

Sears and Keane, though working very, very hard, were not producing any real chances of note and, though the Blackpool goal came against the run of play, it felt inevitable when we weren’t taking advantage of the possession we had at the other end of the field.

The second half was far better, perhaps Freddie’s goal instilled a bit of confidence, but we suddenly looked like a team outclassing their opposition, as we should. 

Judge was a handful, and we were constantly pushing forward. Youngster Tyreece Simpson came on and made himself known, he's one to watch I'm sure.

But, again, aside from a couple of infuriating near misses that had us all throwing our hands in the air - there was no end product in that final third.

After several heart-in-mouth moments, we were faced with 30 seconds that I will never forget:

The ball fell to Freddie and he broke away to find himself in a one-on-one with the keeper.

This was it… the fairytale moment for the striker who had just been through a massive injury. He was about to claim the winner for his first full game back in the side.

I felt everyone hold their breath at the same time.

When he finally took his shot, after what felt like an hour of waiting, it was nothing short of heartbreaking to see the ball parried away.

And worse, sent into play for the home team to slot in the back of our own net at the other end.

It was a cruel ending, but we deserved to lose from the simple fact that we couldn’t score.

Lowering the bar… again

Coming into this season, I definitely had a feeling of quiet confidence. This, finally, was going to be a year we could enjoy. 

I fully expected us to go up as champions and I wasn’t being intentionally arrogant – I just really couldn’t see things going any other way.

We had the biggest squad in the league, as Joey Barton moaned earlier in the season, we had a squad of experienced Championship and League One teams. 

And, come on, we’re Ipswich – we love the Championship, so it was surely not going to be long before we made a return to it.

But we were warned; this is a tough league and our team had been badly damaged from the recent years of bad management.

We should have been better prepared for the challenge that lay ahead of us. We should have invested in January. We should have bought a striker. We should have waited before we started singing about winning the league.

I could discuss for hours who I think is to blame for our current predicament and I’ll save the full details for another blog.

But, the short version is that the bear minimum I expected of Lambert this year was promotion and he doesn’t look likely to deliver on that. If he doesn't, I believe he has to go.

For me, the season is near enough over for us. My biggest fear is that the crisis of confidence we’ve been having from the days of Mick McCarthy is still rearing its ugly head.

If we do make it to the play-offs we need to be in a far better frame of mind: we need to be mentally at our best and we need to believe that we can win them.

I don’t think anyone at Ipswich, on or off the pitch, can honestly say they think that right now.

I’ll hold on to the vague hope that we will, of course, because that’s just what you do when you’re a football fan, but I can’t see that happening.

What I can see happening is another rocky year for us Tractor Boys and Girls.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Ipswich Town must respond quickly and positively after defeat at Accrington Stanley

A lot has happened since Ipswich Town travelled to Accrington Stanley for an FA Cup match back in January… 

I've been through nine months of pregnancy and given birth to my second baby, England have won the cricket World Cup, while Theresa May and Boris Johnson have had their Brexit deals rejected by parliament countless times. 

But you’d be forgiven for thinking not a lot has changed for Ipswich Town: despite them sitting pretty at the top of League One, they still have the capacity to disappoint with a truly dire performance – just as they did back at the beginning of the year.  

That is, of course, extremely harsh, given this was their first defeat of the season. But this weekend was my first game since May and I’m feeling a little disappointed after being very excited about returning to watch this high-flying side.

What follows here is not intended to be an analytical blog on the pros and cons of our performance at the Wham stadium, but more my experience of the game as a long-suffering, long-distance supporter of The Blues.

An unexpected line-up

We began the day with news that Lambert had made big changes to the side, a move which was forced - to some extent - by the fact we’ll be playing three games in a week and Norwood, Wilson, Vincent-Young and Downes were all unavailable.

By all accounts, the four have been some of our strongest players, Vincent-Young in particular has attracted rave reviews. So, it’s little wonder this team felt somewhat second strength, but it was an opportunity for some new players to make the step up.

Dozzell, sadly, didn’t do that in my opinion. I’d forgotten he was playing until he made a tackle somewhere in the second half and he was as ineffectual this weekend as he was during our previous game against Stanley.

This was a scrappy game, so perhaps not particularly suited to him, but as our new side develops under Lambert with the goal of heading straight back to the Championship – he’s going to have to prove himself able to adapt to these kinds of games which will be plentiful in League One.

Meanwhile, Jackson and Judge were selected to play up front, but from what I could see that actually meant Kayden was a lone forward with Judge playing slightly behind him. I cannot stand it when we play one up-front!

With Keane on the bench it seemed a shame to play this formation. It's possible Lambert has opted to rest Keane ahead of our next match, but I’d have liked to see him at least play 45 minutes to give Jackson more support. 

Meanwhile, our defence clearly missed the solid Wilson – Nsiala was slow and lost and frankly not up to the standard of a promotion-chasing side. He may well have a big willy, as the song alleges, but he’s too much of a liability for me.

On a side note, it was interesting that back in January he stood out as our one decent player… he was quite the opposite on Sunday and perhaps that’s a reassuring sign of how far the team has come since then.

Stanley’s first goal was reminiscent of the many we conceded last year

From Accrington’s point of view, the first goal was a beaut – to me, it looked like a lovely cross into the area and a great header from Bishop. But, there were far too many opportunities for our defence to clear the ball, which they didn’t.

Edwards and Garbutt should have done better while the ball was on the wing and Bishop was largely unmarked as he headed it home. I was brutally reminded of the many awful goals we conceded last season, the defence was left helpless as the ball hit the net.

For me, the penalty was harsh on Nsiala, I felt at the time it was a case of ‘6 of one and half a dozen of the other’. It was the last in a long line of decision which went against us, in my totally biased opinion it seemed the referee was punishing us for being the ‘bigger’ side.

My opinion hasn’t changed since watching the goals back, but I know it’s a decision that’s since been debated at length by Town fans and not all agree with me. Blue Monday’s Rich provided a great summary of the tackle on this week’s episode which I was happy to be a part of.

Things could have been different

Having been at the right end of the ground to see the best bits of action from the first half – their two goals were the only two bits of action from the first half – we were also perfectly 
positioned to see the main point of interest from the second half.

A great cross from Garbutt created Town’s best chance to score: sailing over the top of Jackson and Nolan, before their keeper punched it into the path of Woolfenden. His shot was cleared, but not – from our point of view – before it had crossed the line.

Sadly, the referee did not agree, and the away fans stood on the terrace were left bemoaning what really should have been a chance to celebrate on this dull day. In my opinion, Woolfenden should have taken away all doubt and just thrown himself at the ball to take it over the line.

Shortly afterwards, a kerfuffle in front of the seated away fans led to the referee waving a red card at the Accrington player Sykes… 'Here we go', thought I. 'A chance to turn things around with their team down to ten men.'

But it wasn’t to be. The next thing we know, Town substitute Dobra is sulking across the pitch, comforted by Jackson and shrugging his shoulders as if to say, ‘what did I do, Miss?’ Well, lad, you pushed someone in the head so you’ve kind of got to go!

And with that my dwindling hopes that we might get something from our trip completely disappeared.

The unbeaten run is over – and I’m kind of glad

It's been an enjoyable start to the season and I don’t think anyone would have guessed we’d be undefeated in the league for as long as this. But, I’m relieved the pressure of that unbeaten run is now over.

Rather than worrying about how long we can keep that up, we can go back to focusing on one game at a time. We remain top of the league and probably the best side in the third tier.

But, if we intend to stay there we must do better from now. Sky’s commentators summed up our afternoon perfectly: ‘Ipswich Town are getting Sunday schooled.’ That’s pretty embarrassing.

I’m not the type of fan who will get carried away after one win, or panic after one defeat. But with three games in quick succession, this week could quickly become a disappointing turning point in our season if we don’t respond quickly and correctly against Rotherham.

I’m taking comfort in the fact we weren’t as dire on Sunday as we were back in January – but I’m not going to be booking my train tickets for May’s open-top bus tour just yet. This league lacks quality, but so do we sometimes and we’ve got to earn our place back in the Championship.

The most important thing now is moving on and recovering. We need to pick ourselves up and regain control, regain that winning mentality. Do you think we can do that? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter - I'm @TractorGirlAmy8

Thursday, 20 June 2019

The League One Tour starts here... but which away games absolutely must be on your list?

Is there a greater day of the year than fixture list release day? 

At 9 am on Thursday 20th June, my next 12 months are decided, I’ll know what I’m doing on each weekend and friends and family can once again start booking in plans with me.

Never mind the fact my second son is due to arrive at the end of August… my whole life will revolve around the dates and locations that are released by the EFL. The baby can fit around those, right?

So, what game will you be looking for first?

I imagine Southend away is going to be a popular one for Town fans, a local derby of sorts and a new ground for many, and there are plenty of others that will provide a few ‘ticks’ for us on our trip around the 92 (potentially 14 in my case).

For me, the early games will be important. By the start of the season I will be 8 months pregnant and I am at weddings for the first two games – so some nice southern away days or home games that I wouldn't be able to get to anyway would be nice. 

My other half went to Uni in Portsmouth, so we’d love that one to fall on a school holiday when he will be off work. Then the final home game of the season I’m hoping will be the date for my hen do, so praying for that to be a good date too! 

If you’ve worked out the dates and are wondering which away days to go to, I’ve spoken to some Ipswich fans and asked them to recommend their favourites from the choices we have now we’re in League One.

Back in January, I had a preview of the third tier during our trip to Accrington Stanley.

I have to say, the day out was far more enjoyable than the match. There is an away fans pub literally a stone’s throw from the ground, and after the game we were welcomed into the club bar to enjoy their £1 a pint offer which they run every time they win.

The Wham Stadium has an open terrace and seated area for the away fans, I opted for the terrace – thinking it might be marginally warmer standing up and chanting than sitting down for the game. I’m hoping the return visit this season will bring us a little more joy.

@HargraveGas is not a fan of AFC Wimbledon:

Wimbledon is a game I often go to and then wonder why. It’s a horrible ground for away fans, particularly when there is a good number of you. You can’t see the pitch (this picture makes it look better than it is!), but there is a nice, friendly area outside to eat and drink before the kick-off. 

Blackpool is one I’ve been to a few times and it’s sure to be one Town fans are looking out for:

It’s amazing to think they were not long ago in the Premier League, the ground is definitely one of the better ones we’ll go to this year – but it’s no Old Trafford. Last time I went, the toilets were portaloos and it is so windy you wonder how the ball is staying on the ground.

As a day trip, though, it’s hard to beat. Obviously the ideal one for a weekender, with pubs and clubs a-plenty and loads of cheap places to stay. It was in Blackpool where I first met a group of Town fans that were to become my good friends for many years after!

Assuming Bolton are able to make it through the summer, the Macron Stadium (or whatever it is called nowadays) is one I’ll definitely be hoping to go to. It’s only an hour from me and I actually really like the modern ground.

With the excellent following earlier this year over 1,000), this was one of the more enjoyable away trips of the year, despite us already being all but relegated. There isn’t usually so many people who make the journey up for this on, which can make it quite quiet.

We always park at the Beehive Pub, it’s free and a good place to grab food and drinks. The walk to the ground feels like it lasts forever, but it’s actually only about fifteen minutes and if you’re going by train, the station is over the road. 

@itmanSW75 has lots of experience of going to Bristol Rovers:

The first thing to note about a trip to Bristol Rovers is that you're not visiting the Red Side of the City. Parking around the ground is fairly abundant and trains run frequently from London to Bristol.

There is no alcohol available to away fans inside the ground, but the Annexe Inn and the Sportsman is recommended, and there are lots of other choices nearby. 

The Memorial Stadium itself is a strange mixture of stands. Ipswich fans will find themselves in a small, uncovered corner of the East Stand and the new South Stand which has a feel of temporary seating. So, if we're placed there on a cold November evening, you're definitely going to want to be in the south end!  

Blue Monday regular @IpsRich often shares stories about Burton Albion because it's one of the closest games to his home:

Burton Albion is a great away trip. As a Midlander, its a short hop up the road for me, so scores big convenience points!

I’ve always found Burton a welcoming place. The locals will strike up a conversation if they spot the blue of an ITFC shirt, and are very knowledgable and passionate about their club. They’re aware of their stature too though; Derby is very close by, and Leicester and Nottingham are also adjacent.

The away end is a terrace behind the goal and some seating to the side. Do yourself a favour, relive the good old days by standing (legitimately) behind the goal. A visit to Burton in the 2019/20 season will also mark only our third away visit to the Brewers in our entire history. 

The lovely @hunimonster is an away days specialist. But, as a Midlands based Town fan, Coventry is actually her 'home' game:

I was born and still live just a couple of miles down the road from Coventry. 

I remember my first away game and tightly gripping my Dad's hand on the way to Highfield Road. I don't remember the score but I will always remember the noise and the atmosphere.

Since then, the Ricoh has been the first taste my children have had of the away end and the magnificent support us Ipswich fans bring. 

Portman Road will always be 'home', but I know no matter where Coventry City play in the seasons to come, I feel I'm always among friends when we visit the Sky Blues.

@Tom_Morken has these tips for anyone travelling to Fleetwood Town:

There’s no train station at Fleetwood and not much to see in the area around Highbury Stadium. So, you’re better off spending the pre-match in Blackpool and then hopping on the tram to Stanley Road which is about a 35-minute journey and only a few minutes’ walk from the ground. 

Get a day travelcard on the tram (was around £5 when I visited last October).

Meanwhile, @DaveTractor is a fan of Gillingham.

The trip there includes a cracking pub and chip shop to visit. Gillingham is a desert for decent pubs, but all away supporters stop at the Wetherspoons at Rochester.

Lincoln City holds some bad memories for Town fans, @ChrisTalbot has these tips to make it a little more successful this season (off the pitch at least): 

Sincil Bank is about a 15-minute walk from Lincoln Central Railway Station and the away fans are seated in the Stacey West Stand. There is a Fanzone on matchdays behind the South Park Stand and there is also a Wetherspoons on the High Street on the way to the ground.

@hargravegas adds: I have mixed memories of Lincoln – some absolutely cracking games, the city itself is quite lovely (in parts), but they sometimes need a police presence. I’ve been there when it’s kicked off, not good!

I’ve not been to Peterborough United for a while, it’s another that holds very bad memories.

Our last league trip there was the absolutely disastrous 7:1 defeat, when Tommy Smith was sent off – within 30 seconds of entering the pitch, if memory serves – followed by Lee Martin who never really found form after that.

When we visited for a friendly game more recently, I did enjoy the pre-match pub. It was a barge on the edge of the river, had a lovely atmosphere and I’m sure they had Aspall’s on tap too. 

A good cider makes a good away day, I reckon.

@hargravegas added a quick review of Rochdale:

Rochdale is well worth a trip: old fashioned, really friendly, quite homely I would say and nice pies!

Rotherham is one of my favourite away days and this is one I’ll be praying doesn’t clash with anything.

The Bridge Inn was rumoured to not be taking away fans last season, although we were welcomed there afterwards and the bar man was quite confused about why we hadn’t been in before.

The pub is opposite the train station and a short walk from the ground. It’s not massive, but plenty big enough for the away fans we usually take to this game, and they serve pies and other food before the game – winner.

We haven’t had many amazing away days in recent years thanks to Mick 'the draw specialist' McCarthy, but Rotherham was one in 2016: a hat trick from Daryl Murphy (oh how we miss him) taking us to a 5:2 win and a lot of post-match partying… I didn’t actually make it home after that one!

@AnglianDriver has clear memories of Shewsbury Town from years gone by:

I actually saw Town at the old Gay Meadow ground in the 80’s in the UEFA Cup winning season when Burley broke his leg, and then we lost 2-1 in the FA Cup in 1984 (I think).

Shrewsbury moved to a modern, out-of-town stadium a few years ago, it has a large car park at the front (it sits back from the main road next to a Lidl Shop!). It’s a bit like Colchester United’s ground in design and capacity and there is a pub close to the ground call the Wild Pig and a retail park offering things like McDonald’s.

The town centre is about 2-3 miles away, where there are lots of nice pubs and bars. Shrewsbury itself is a fairly affluent place with a decent nightlife and some nice, historical architecture.

@Hargravegas also gave us his thoughts on Southend United:

I love Southend and I’m not sure why, it might be because they still have two Wimpy’s in town! 

I tend to park in the street, somewhere around the school and there’s nice fish and chips near the ground too. The only negative thing that I would say is that it always takes longer than you think it will to get there.  

I’d been looking forward to Sunderland when we played them two years ago.

Before the game I hadn’t expected we’d be seeing them relegated so soon (nor for us to follow them down the year after). My friends all stayed in Newcastle for the weekend and I joined them for breakfast at a Greene King pub near the station (always a fail-safe option).

We popped to St James’ Park to pay our respects at the Sir Bobby Robson statue, before jumping on the Metro to Sunderland. We found a pub there which was packed with ITFC fans. A lovely atmosphere but, to be honest, I regretted not staying in Newcastle for another pint.

Fair warning, as you’ll see in my video, the stairs to the away stand are both the highlight and the worst part of the trip… it’s a long way up, but they have little messages at each level to make you smile through the climb.

Let me know which game you’re looking forward to most!