Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Tricky Trees Continue Trials of Town Fans

After Ipswich put in such a good performance against Sheffield Wednesday, I was foolishly looking forward to our home game against Nottingham Forest.


Because this game was on Sky, I spent Saturday evening with my friend Mark, who also lives in West Yorkshire.


We meet up often, though not often enough, and our conversations generally revolve around The Blues.


That's why it's always good to watch games together whenever they are live on TV.


A fellow long distance Blues supporter, he almost always holds a different opinion to me about the team, manager and owner.


But, we are united in our passion for Ipswich and frustration with the way things are at the moment.


Here, in my first football Vlog, I show how watching Town lose 2:0 to Forest felt from our side of the television screens:




Thursday, 17 November 2016

The real Price of Football

Every year, BBC Sport release a study which claims to 'analyse data to find out how much it costs football supporters to follow their team'.


Several articles are released, looking at ticket prices across the football league, summarising the main points and grouping together the stats under the banner 'The Price of Football'.
It's an important topic and one us football fans talk about regularly, because it affects every one of us. There's no getting away from the fact that football isn't cheap.
But the BBC, once again, seem to miss the point of the conversation and an opportunity to send a strong message to our clubs - prices are getting to high.
To me, the article reads like someone let the work experience student go mad with stats and then picked out the biggest numbers to create a 'shock'. Perhaps I am being naive, perhaps that is exactly what journalism has been reduced to these days.
For Ipswich in particular, it betrays the average fan by portraying the details of a far more premium experience at the club that most of us will ever actually pay for.
Sadly, it's a stat that hits their headlines every year: the most expensive season ticket in the Championship is... *drum roll please*... Ipswich Town with £842.
"Eight hundred quid!!?" the neutrals cry, "that's an outrage. You can get a season ticket at Barcelona for less than that".
Except, like I say, that isn't what a 'normal' Ipswich fan will pay. I follow a lovely chap on Twitter who sits in one of those seats and he has explained in the past that he enjoys sitting there, so he is willing (and able) to pay that price.
The average Ted, sitting down in the Sir Bobby Robson stand in his blue and white replica shirt (more on that later), will have paid a generally more manageable fee of £500. It's still a lot of money, of course, but far less shocking.

So what actually is the Price of Football?
I don't intend to speak for all football fans, but I can talk through what the Price of Football is for me:

Matchday tickets: £30 per month - ish.
I don't go to many home games per season, so my focus here is on away ticket prices and those can vary greatly: for Leeds in September I paid £35 but for Wigan next month I am about to pay just £20.
I always budget around £30 for a ticket as that's what I am willing to pay to get into each game. I am happy if it costs me less than that and I do try to select games which will cost less to allow my budget to go further.
For home games I usually pay just over £30. It is more than I want to pay, especially when you add in the cost of travel, but I believe season tickets are the lifeblood of our club and so the cost of those should be more attractive then the matchday tickets.
For a season ticket holder, each individual game costs around £17 - almost half of what I pay - which I think more than reasonable. If you are unable to pay that in one go, you can pay by direct debit for around £30 a month: the same amount I pay each month for just one game!
In addition to that, the club currently have a special offer where you can buy a number of tickets for a reduced price. You do need to know which games you plan to go to, but surely we have all planned our lives around football games?
No?
Just me?


Whoops.


Travel: £20 per month (£60 if travelling to a home game)


As an away fan, I generally opt for games that are easy to get to via public transport. £20 is usually the limit for my budget when booking train tickets, it is equivalent to half a tank of petrol and I can get to most grounds on that amount of fuel.
I truly feel sympathy for the Ipswich fans who travel up to the northern games, which usually involves four or five hours in the car (and no drinking), or several changes and a large cost if going by train.
Ipswich is such a difficult place to get to, with journeys up north often involving two or three changes at places like London, Grantham and Peterborough, changes that increase the prices. As a result, I have known many friends book their travel months in advance to take advantage of lower prices, only to find the game has been moved to be shown on Sky and they lose the money they have paid for that ticket.


Food and drink: Between £10 and £30
This is an entirely subjective cost, which fluctuates depending on how much time I have for pre- and post-match drinks. The Price of Football for me though will inevitably involve a few pints and a couple of shots, because, as you know, my enjoyment of match days is based heavily on the social side of the day.
I know from when I was pregnant last season that I could easily find somewhere to eat lunch and have a soft drink for less than a tenner. It doesn't have to cost a lot, in the same way that one doesn't have to buy a pie despite it being included in the BBC survey.


Programmes and other memorabilia: £50 a season.
I recently moved home and, being pregnant at the time, I was unable to lift most of the items down from my first floor flat.


So, you can imagine the delight of my partner, Luke, when he came across my boxes of ITFC programmes. "Do you really need these?" he asks, before quickly scurrying away when given 'the glare'.
The same was true when my Dad moved home a few years ago, my Mum could not understand why we were carting boxes and boxes of the things all the way down to Cornwall. "Mum", I said, "these are from the eighties. Come on, be sensible".
The truth is, both Mum and Luke have a point. We really don’t need those programmes. But throwing them away would be like throwing away the treasured cuddly toy of your first born, or the little tag the hospital put on their teenie little ankle when they are born. You just can't bring yourself to dispose of memories that have had a profound effect on your life.
Yes, I did just compare my son's hospital name tag to my programme from Huddersfield away five years ago and, no, I'm not sorry.
As a result of realising how right Mum and Luke are, I have decided not to buy programmes when at games. I find I rarely get the chance to read them at the game and tend to prefer to find stories online in the days leading up to the match.
I have also made the decision not to buy a replica shirt each season. However, if I particularly like a shirt, like the 'Tractor-lona' away shirt we had last year, I purchase it at the end of the season at a reduced price.
I have cut back on the typical bits, but I do buy generic items that won't go out of date in 12 months time. Like the time I travelled to Ipswich only to realise it was much colder than I'd expected and I hadn't packed a coat. So, I popped to Planet Blue and paid £30 for a gillet, which I wear almost every day two years later.
My new expense, of course, is Ipswich Town babygrows for my son, Harry. I am not sure if I am brainwashing the child or being duped into spending money I don't need to... but the feeling of seeing him in blue and white, smiling at me when we've won is worth every penny.
 
In total then, it seems I spend around £850 per season. So, for the price the BBC has given the impression Ipswich fans pay for season tickets, I get a whole year of enjoying watching Town (I use the word 'enjoying' very loosely).
The thing that frustrates me is that this is actually an important topic, but the BBC miss the point by trying to focus on too many things at once.
People are being priced out of watching the game, particularly those who have children to pay for on top of their own tickets.
The prices at Portman Road are not great, particularly when compared to the amazing cost of a season ticket at Huddersfield this season.
But, those points are part of a much wider conversation, one which I'm sure I will return to at some point this season. In the Championship, it's not a simple case of the clubs profiting from their fans like it is in the Premiership and comparing the two is unfair and unhelpful.
£500 is a lot of money but the truth is, I am able to pay that at the moment and so I am willing to. Football is a huge part of me, the hobby that makes me happy. And, whether it's decoupage or watching sport that takes your fancy, hobbies cost money.
And I'd much rather be supporting Town than gluing together bits of paper.


I'm interested to hear hoe much you spend on football, so please do tweet me on @tractorgirlamy8

Friday, 11 November 2016

Memo to McCarthy: How not to make friends and influence people


There is no better feeling in this world than a last minute winner.

My three month old son's smiles are special... but they've got nothing on the moment I heard Luke Chambers had scored against Sheffield Wednesday.

The skipper joined Richard Chaplow and Noel Hunt in the hall of fame for goals that will long remain in the memories of those who witnessed them live.

My friend Anthony, who has only ever seen us draw at Hillsborough, was ecstatic: 'Absolute scenes when Chambers scored', he told me in a text after the game, 'Ben must have fallen down about 5 rows of seating'. We've all been there, right?

How happy I am for those who travelled to South Yorkshire on the back of a disappointing result the weekend before. They, more than anyone, deserved to experience that win.

This year has seen difficult times at Ipswich Town, so supporters back in Suffolk surely enjoyed that victory?

Oh no Amy, of course they didn't.

No sooner had the final whistle blown, than I saw tweets appear on my timeline declaring the three points were 'papering over the cracks'.

For many, it's going to take more than an unexpected away win to renew confidence and you can understand the continued frustrations of those who wish to see the end of McCarthy's reign (though hearing fans actually wanting us to lose is unfathomable).

So, what of our controversial manager? He, surely, would be smiling after that result?

Oh no Amy, of course he wasn't.

"Asked if it’s only fair to judge him now he’s got close to a fully fit squad available, he replied: “If you or anyone else wants to judge me then crack on. That performance today and that result reflects my time at Ipswich, my four years and 202 games, far more than the performances that some choose to carp on about." EADT

McCarthy aims these weekly digs at a set of fans who have endured over fifteen years of struggling to get out of the Championship. It is growing tiresome and is the main reason he has lost the support of a great number of fans.

 

But, to what extend are his comments justified? Are they really as offensive and arrogant as some would have you think?

Here's some other examples of his comments:

"Jonathan Douglas isn’t injured, I just left him out,” explained McCarthy. “That was the team I wanted to play, that strangely defensive team I wanted to play, to play s**t football, that’s why I did it.” EADT (Following criticism for defensive tactics.)

“I’ll just tell you that the more they shout the less chance there is they will come on." EADT (Responding to fans calling for McGoldrick, Bru and Pitman to used in the team.)

"Some people might be frustrated with that result? Some people can f*** off." Football website 'Joe' (Defending a draw away at Leeds.)

And in a similar conversation: "McCarthy was delighted that his side were able to deny a fellow relegation-threatened side all three points, admitting that he ‘wouldn’t have bothered getting on the bus’ had he been offered the draw prior to the match." Ipswich Star

Sometimes I read his post-match interviews and feel like banging my head against a brick wall. With the mood as it is, comments like this further rile those who are criticising him. In short, he is giving them ammunition.



I do wish someone with his many years of experience would have a little more diplomacy. But, I also wonder why people take it so seriously. Take, for example, his comments after that draw with Rotherham:


“If you are ever looking for a point in a season to turn a bad moment around, maybe that could be it, a wonderful strike from a really good player.” EADT

The accompanying headline ('Rotherham draw could be turning point, says Town boss McCarthy') created uproar online, with fans calling him deluded for thinking a point at home against bottom of the league was a 'turning point'.



However, when reading what he says in the context of his other comments, I get a very different impression.



Whilst giving a balanced view of the game, admitting that the second half wasn't good and that we looked nervous, he looks to the moment that saved us - David McGoldrick's late but great strike.



To me, he is saying the performance wasn't good enough but a goal like that, which will be a contender for goal of the season come May, could be the start of something better. The result itself isn't what he thinks is the turning point, but the confidence gained from that lovely goal could be.



Sometimes I think his comments are interpreted harshly by fans who already have an issue with him, those who complain are often the ones who have already decided they want him to go.
 

I also find it laughable when people take offence to the things he's said. McCarthy has always been an up front, blunt manager - it's the reason his interviews have become something of a legend.


‘I don’t intimate things, do I? I’m not clever enough to say one thing and mean another. I say it as it is, as I always do.’ Daily Mail (Apologies for linking to this website, an alternative was not available. #StopFundingHate)

Throughout his interviews over the years, a clear trend is visible: the majority include a sarcastic answer to a question or a little joke. It's just what he does.

Having lived in Yorkshire for almost eight years now, the bluntness of the locals has taken some getting used to, but they generally have kind intentions: McCarthy is, quite simply, a typical Yorkshire man.

In the early days of my time as a journalist, I attended an Ipswich game at the Molineux during McCarthy's tenure there. He came to speak to the press a little earlier than Paul Jewell, Town's boss at the time, so I took the chance to listen in to what he had to say.

As he made jokes and spoke frankly about the game, he held the attention of every person in that room.  He came across as knowledgeable and likeable, so much so that I missed the beginning of the interview with Jewell because I had been listening too intently to what Mick had to stay.

I don't know him personally, but I have known people who do. They have spoken so highly of him I find it difficult to imagine he doesn't care about the team or he is using the club for a final pay cheque before retirement: two things he has been accused of by some of our fans.

This is also the reason I find it so difficult reading the nasty names and even threats of violence aimed at him on the internet. When I questioned one fan on his wish to 'smash a glass around McCarthy's head', thinking perhaps it was a poorly thought out joke, he responded that his feelings were 'justified'.



This kind of criticism is something McCarthy has faced many times before and he has always been honest with reporters about his feelings towards it, this quote is an example from his time as manager of the Republic of Ireland:



'The Irish media, incredibly, will tell you they have not been hard on me, but they're liars. They've given me a hard time and they all take exception to it when I say it to them, which doesn't bother me.' The Guardian


The quote rings true of things he has said about his time at Ipswich, where he has said he doesn't care if people don't like his tactics. To some this comes across as arrogance; to me it is a case of having to rise above the hate and get on with his job.

He has had to deal with far worse than 'criticism' at the hands of our fans:

“I’m a boring c***, somebody called me last week. I wish they would call it to my face on my own because his pint of lager ... he would have been wearing it." Independent


Though I would not condone the use of the 'c' word, unless referring to Grant Holt, I felt the focus on his use of it missed the point entirely. The criticism from a section of our fan base has turned nasty and personal, no person should ever have to deal with that.

In my previous blog, I wrote about the vitriol that has been aimed at McCarthy in recent months, explaining I think it is unhelpful. In fact, it is counter-productive and shows those who resort to it as extremely petty.

Nasty names are never justified and there are, sadly, more examples of fans being offensive directly to the manager and players. A friend of mine retold her experience of waiting to meet the players after an away game this season:

'The way [a group of fans] spoke to Luke was so rude and disrespectful, they pounced on him when he came out of the gates. I tried to defend him but they said we didn't know what we were talking about because we are female. I made a quick exit'

How awful to think that our fan base is resorting to this kind of hate, but it is not the first time a story has come out describing nastiness on the part of our fans. I am reminded of the time that Paul Jewell told a reporter about his experiences on a garage forecourt.

Nor is it the first time we have had to put up with our manager committing a faux pas in the media room. Compared with a sexist comment about a female official or shouting at a journalist for forgetting to put their phone on silent, these errors from McCarthy don't seem as offensive.

If your opinion on the team differs from Mick McCarthy, that is fair enough. But, if your difference of opinion with him is based on, or influenced by your dislike of him personally, I would suggest you are doing him and our club a disservice.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Ipswich fans divided through tough times



When times are hard at Ipswich Town, it's often the angriest voices that seem loudest.

That's why, when I read East Anglian Daily Times columnist Karl Fuller talking passionately about why he feels Mick McCarthy should be relieved of his duties, I felt compelled to write a response.

Since my own article appeared in the paper on Friday a few people have contacted me to ask if they can read it online. Unfortunately, it isn't available on the website so I thought I would issue a more detailed version here on my blog.

Because, although I'm equally frustrated with our current form I don't think things are as bad as some fans believe. I also thought it was important to highlight that not all fans are calling for Mick's head.

I recently ran a poll on Facebook and Twitter asking who believed McCarthy should leave and who wanted him to stay: with almost four hundred people taking part, 51% voted for him to stay. That provides a decent guide to how split the fan base is currently.

Karl's 'Fuller Flavour' piece last Monday contained a letter from fan Mark Holdaway who summarised the reasons he feels McCarthy's time at Ipswich should be at an end.

Whilst I respect Mark's opinions, I do not entirely agree with them, here I have picked out the main points:

'The partnership of Skuse and Douglas does not work.'

The midfield partnership - affectionately known as Skuglas - does frustrate at times due to a lack of creativity. The two are very similar players and fielding them together generally results in a defensive performance from our side.

But, it is no coincidence that whilst the duo were in the side we had the second best defensive record in the league. Furthermore, it is telling to me that with Skuse unable to play against Newcastle we conceded three goals. While during our home victory over Burton, with Douglas absent, we reportedly allowed the opposition more opportunities to score.

For me, playing defensively is not an issue. In fact, it is going to be essential to us having any success this season. But I do understand this results in less entertaining football and agree that sometimes it is appropriate to set up the team with a more attacking approach.

'I also see a captain played out of position just to accommodate him a place in the team...'

Luke Chambers has received some stick for his success (or lack of) at right back for some time now, but it feels somewhat harsh.

Again, I agree he is not productive to an attacking formation and is prone to errors, but he has appeared in the EFL Championship team of the year several times. Only last week, following that home win over Burton, he was named in that team again, which has to suggest he isn't all bad, surely?

'...And one striker up front at home'.

I agree without reservation that a formation with two men up front would suit our current squad best. Neither Sears nor Best have shown themselves capable of producing the goods alone, so my preference would definitely be to play them together.

But without a main striker, like Murphy or McGoldrick, confidence in playing an attacking game will be low.

The sale of Murphy came very, very late and left us little time to sort a replacement. Whether you agree with Evans refusing to pay the increased prices demanded for our planned replacements or not, I personally do, turning down the high sum for Murphy would have been ludicrous.

The welcome return of McGoldrick should lift the pressure, giving us a player who can create chances and intimidate the opposition. But, he will need time to return to full match fitness and I suspect McCarthy will continue with the defensive approach until then.

It's daunting playing in this tough league without a first choice striker and it's understandable that McCarthy has reverted back to a 'tight at the back', defensive approach to games, at least until that situation is resolved, hopefully in January.

The sale of Murphy came very, very late and left us little time to sort a replacement. Whether you agree with Evans refusing to pay the increased prices demanded for our planned replacements or not, I personally do, turning down the high sum for Murphy would have been ludicrous.

When it comes to Mick, I am yet to be convinced that the time has come for him to move on, though I am not unsympathetic to the opinions about why he ought to leave.

At the beginning of the summer I said he ought to be given time to show what he can do in the transfer window and then we should wait and see how the 'improved' team were doing come the end of October.

As we near that date I find I have wimped out of reaching for my pitchfork and chasing him out of Suffolk, but for good reason. Until the final week of the transfer window, McCarthy made some good purchases, bringing in some potentially exciting youngsters (something most Ipswich fans were calling out for last season, but few seem to be acknowledging this season) and a couple of wingers too.

Add to the sale of Murphy the list of injuries that we've experienced, it's clear McCarthy has been put in a difficult position and is making the best of what he has available.

Of course, these are all simply my opinions and being able to discuss different points of view is one of the joys of being a football fan in the age of social media. Less enjoyable is the tendency to criticise those with opposing opinions.

Karl and Mark have been branded disloyal because they have criticised McCarthy and that is not fair. Fans like Karl, who travel the country to watch our team play, should never be made to feel inferior to any other fans. In fact, the same should be true for any person who still cares about this club after nearly fifteen years in the Championship - whatever their opinions on McCarthy and Evans.

That includes those who, like me, understand and support the decisions made by our manager and owner. I don't think any of us are happy with the current run of performances, but to be called 'deluded' on a daily basis is frustrating when I too simply want the best for our club.

Last week I saw fans ridiculed for being stuck 'in the dark ages' because they defended our performances, as I have here. Equally, the names thrown at McCarthy, 'dinosaur' and so on, are unhelpful.

The mood and attendance at Portman Road will improve with better performances and results, should we really allow it to become quite so toxic in the meantime?

We all want what is best for our club; the fact we disagree on how that should be achieved does not mean we should be at loggerheads all the time.

That's not the Ipswich way.

 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Town see out the season with a special win at Derby


Be honest: when you saw the games Ipswich had to play in the final month of the season, you didn't think we'd be earning any points away from home, did you?

I have a confession... I didn't either.

Our run in included trips to Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and Derby - each of whom were expected to be competing for promotion or the play offs by that point in the season.

So, as long ago as last June, I made the decision not to travel to the Riverside because I didn't fancy three trips in a month to see my team lose. I'm sorry for doubting you Ipswich!

It's fascinating to me that we survived each of those games undefeated, while the less daunting home fixtures against Brentford, Fulham and MK Dons saw us gain less points.




Truth be told, Saturday wasn't a match where you could make a fair judgement on either side: Derby looked to be holding back and Town didn't seem too bothered about making the most of that, even when playing against ten men for the final eight minutes of the game.

Given this week's play off matches, I was surprised to see The Rams hadn't rested their main players. But even with the first team on display, their performance was a shadow of what I had seen at Portman Road in December. Despite having the majority of the possession and nineteen shots on goal, they didn't really ever look like scoring or taking any kind of control of the game.

Ipswich, meanwhile, had their moments: the return of David McGoldrick and Teddy Bishop has changed the style of football beyond recognition and bodes well for next season (assuming we are able to keep both players over the summer).

The difference between Saturday and the last match I saw at Sheffield Wednesday, was that the nice passing football actually lead to chances in the box and shots on goal. McGoldrick and Bishop were key to this.

Teddy, David and Freddie Sears all caused problems for the Derby defence, leading to Teddy being fouled in the box by Richard Keogh. Replays show two defenders failing to deal with him as he makes his way towards the goal with ease, before being brought to the ground.

After what felt like an age, the referee pointed to the penalty spot and I was happy for McGoldrick to get his name on the score-sheet once again. For me, it is absolutely vital that we hang onto him over the summer and do everything we can to make sure he stays fit for the whole of next season.

Just eight minutes from time, a shot on goal at the other end of the pitch lead to Derby's George Thorne suffering a major injury. From the reaction of our players, we could see the injury was serious as they gestured quickly for the medics.

Having used up all their subs, Derby were forced to see the game out with just ten men  and I would have liked to see Town push on a bit more. We held on to the ball well, with some more of that nice passing football that we have so badly missed this year, and looked very much the side in control (as would rightly be expected).

It was nice to see Kenlock and McDonnell given a run out, the former certainly looks promising. Mick has made use of these 'meaningless games' to give the youngsters a run out, for some fans it is a case of too little too late but I trust the manager to know when they are ready for first team football.

I don't expect to see the likes of Kenlock, Emmanuel, Dozzell, etc. go straight into the side next year, but their availability will surely give us more strength in the squad? This is something that has been clearly missing this season.


Having watched three out of the four sides that have reached the play offs this season, I don't hold out a massive amount of hope for Derby. As I say, this game really wasn't a fair reflection of what either side is capable of but, in my opinion, Brighton are by far the superior team in terms of style of football and I think both County and Wednesday will struggle to progress.

That said, I might be slightly biased as I would love to have another trip to the iPro next season. It was only my second trip to the ground, with the last time being on the final day of the season in 2003 when we won 4:1, meaning my undefeated record there remains safe.

Wanting to avoid travelling up early in the morning, quite a few of my friends decided to make a trip of it and stay in Derby the night before. This meant we could all get together for the final pre match meet up of this season.

Debates around Mick McCarthy and his team seem to have subsided somewhat, perhaps down to the decent results that we have seen over recent weeks. Instead discussions focused on our plans for the summer and the new kit which Town revealed just a few days before (We are all getting the away one!).

After the line up had been announced, we made our way in the sunshine to the ground. One of the things I like most about the iPro is that you can see it from far away, as we exited the train station we spotted the tips of the roof on the horizon and it is even more impressive once you are stood in front of it.



That great impression continued inside the ground, which felt almost full and very loud. Respect must be given to the Derby fans: tickets on the day cost £30 and with the play offs this week I think I'd have been tempted to give a game against 'hoofball Ipswich' a miss to save my pennies.

Having the away fans situated right next to the louder section of the home fans certainly made a difference to the atmosphere, with them bouncing off one another to start chants. The highlight for me being Town taunting the Rams with 'we saw you cry on the telly', in reference to the final day of last season when Derby missed out on the play offs due to a defeat against Reading - giving us their sixth place spot.

Derby's response of 'at least we've been on the telly' probably had me chuckling more though!

To other Town fans, and even Derby ones, the win on Saturday may not have meant a lot, but to me it meant the world, as I will be seeing a lot less football from now on following the birth of my little one in the summer.

So, thank you Town for what has, at the very least, been a memorable year of football trips, and for ending the season with a Chambers fist pump just for me.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

And so, the end is near... saying goodbye to the season


The 2015/2016 season is one that most Ipswich fans will want to forget rather quickly; but, for many reasons, it is one that I will always remember.

For about halfway through, I found out that I am expecting a baby - with the new addition to the ITFC family due in August, around the first weekend of next season as it turns out!

Over the last five months I have spent a lot of time getting my head around how much my experiences as a football fan are going to change. For the first time in my life, football may actually be about to take a back seat. It's unthinkable!

While getting ready to attend the final game of the season at Derby's iPro stadium, I have spent this week looking back at some of the highlights, and low points, of the past nine months.
For me, the time to analyse where things went wrong and what needs to change is next week, when the season is over.
For now, this blog is a reflection on the experiences of this year and a toast a goodbye to the final season of being, well, 'me'!

 


Preston North End: 1 Ipswich Town: 2

As I made what is quite a short journey for me, I realised I hadn't seen us win away from home since November 2014, a 2:0 win over Blackpool, and wondered if that terrible record would ever end.

Having been through the drama of the play offs at the start of the summer, it was strange to be back with friends and facing 'business as normal'. Much of the pre match conversations were taken up with discussions of the play offs and our experiences from them.

A first half goal from new signing Brett Pitman was cancelled out by an equaliser from Preston's Daniel Johnson who, at the time, looked very impressive. An unremarkable second half followed, with the exception of a stunning goal from another new signing, Ryan Fraser.






What followed was an agonising twenty-five minute wait for the final whistle, Ipswich fans all around me looking very tense as we watched the clock tick down to 16:45. Is it mad to say that that was the highlight of the day for me? The nerve wracking final minutes of a game are all part of the drama and the reason we love football, surely?

 


Doncaster Rovers: 1 Ipswich Town: 4 (League Cup Second Round)

There will always be a special place in my heart for Doncaster Rovers, having spent a season a few years ago helping them out writing a few articles, so, I was pleased for an excuse to pop down the A1 and see my Town play there again this season.

McCarthy had made some big changes to the team for this cup tie, allowing Town's young prospects the opportunity for game time. I was impressed with Josh Yorwerth, but less so with Josh Emmanuel. The fact that the latter has gone on to break into first team and been offered a two year contract at Town, shows how far he has come this season (and what a poor judge I am!).

The most memorable moment of the evening was Larsen Toure throwing his shirt into the crowd at the end of normal time, not realising he still had thirty minutes to play. He was quickly called back by the Town fans and his shirt returned, I later learned he made sure that the young lad who had caught the shirt the first time was given it to take home when the match actually did finish.

On the way home, we listened to BBC 5 Live's coverage of the third round draw, our own opposition being revealed quite early on: "Manchester United will play at home to... Ipswich Town'.

It took a moment to sink in, I could not believe it, I would finally get to see my team play at the famous Old Trafford.
 


Ipswich Town: 2 Brighton Hove Albion: 3

The week leading up to the August bank holiday saw me making a trip around the south of England, beginning with my first trip of the year to Portman Road, followed by Silverstone for the MotoGP and then on to Cornwall for a week.

May 2015 had seen me make three trips to East Anglia in less than a month, including two eight hour round trips undertaken in one day for the two play off legs. The exhaustion and drama of those weekends was still fresh in my memory and I was glad to be 'home' again.

On the pitch, Brighton appeared to be a far superior team but Town did well to come back from being two goals down. As I left the ground I didn't feel disappointed with the win, I had actually really enjoyed the match.  


Post match drinks were spent in the sunny beer garden with friends, debating Mick's possible formations for the next games - exactly as all bank holidays should be if you ask me.


 

Manchester United: 3 Ipswich Town: 0 (League Cup Third Round)

Many years ago, I made a promise to myself that the first time I went to see a football match at Old Trafford it would be with my own team. Though I did see the Rugby League World Cup in 2013, I had happily kept to that promise.

So, when we drew them in the cup I was desperate to secure a ticket and, thanks to some very kind friends who have season tickets and could not make the game themselves, I managed to book my seat. We decided to make this a trip to remember and booked a room for the night so that we could stay after the game.

Following an afternoon of visiting pubs in Manchester, we headed for Old Trafford and I cannot explain how excited I was to see the ground appear through the dark sky, it was an incredible sight. The feeling of walking up the stairs and into the ground with a chorus of Town songs ringing around me is one I will never forget.


For me to share that experience with my sister and some of my closest friends was truly something special and the reason I look back on this season with fondness. I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to do that.

 


Blackburn Rovers: 2 Ipswich Town: 0

Last May, the final day of the season was packed with drama and nerves. For Town fans, it all took place at Ewood Park where, despite losing, Ipswich were confirmed as having reached the play offs.

It was one of the best days I've experienced as a football fan, so returning to where we'd been through those feelings of relief and excitement was really important to me. But, in the nostalgia of remembering those good times, I had forgotten our terrible record against Blackburn.

This latest visit didn't disappoint, the match was so awful one friend of mine decided to leave early, something I've never seen him do before, so he could catch an earlier train home. We made a pact there and then not to make this away trip next season.

For me, this game was when my hopes for the season began to drop, as I realised that this year was going to be even tougher than the last. After the thrill of making the play offs last year, I had said I'd be happy with us being in with a shout of reaching them again, but I think this was the day I accepted that even that might be an expectation too far.




Nottingham Forest: 1 Ipswich Town: 1

As an overall 'away day', Nottingham has to be one of the best and after the disappointment of the performance at Blackburn we needed something to cheer us up a bit. So my friends and I decided to book into a hostel and stay the night. It's something I like to do at least once a season because it gives you the chance to bond with fellow Town fans and chat with the opposition fans.  

The game itself was also really enjoyable, on reflection I think it was the best I've seen us play this season, and was one of few matches that made us look like one of the top teams in the division.

Of course, Town being Town, it would have been against tradition to leave the City Ground without conceding a last minute goal and I should have put money on former Town player Liam Trotter being the one to score it. The draw felt utterly unfair at the time, but I had felt proud of the team's performance and at least we had our night out to look forward to.

 


Rotherham United: 2 Ipswich Town: 5

By far and away the highlight of my season, for the ninety minutes on the pitch and the whole day before and after off it. After the dreadful experience during my first visit to the New York Stadium last season, when Town lost 2:0, I had expected an awful performance once again.

This feeling of dread was increased by the declining home form that our team was demonstrating, something that was the topic of much discussion in the pub beforehand. Those chats included much criticism of our 'super striker' Daryl Murphy, who was so far failing to reach the dizzy heights of his 27 goal season last year.

Thankfully, we looked fantastic and Murphy was on fire. I think the last time I saw Town score more than two goals was in the days of Paul Jewell, a final game of the season victory at Doncaster. To experience another goal fest after such a long time was wonderful and really left the away end in high spirits.

Again, Town being Town, we couldn't just make it a comfortable win, so at 4:0 up when we allowed the Millers back into the game with two quick goals, the nerves set in a bit. But that's what made it so special when Murphy completed his hat trick and put the game to bed.




Charlton Athletic: 0 Ipswich Town: 3

I wasn't going to include this match as it wasn't one I went to see at the ground, but it was a trip out for me as I went to watch the game with one of my closest friends in his local pub in Lancashire with a number of Everton fans!

The locals began the evening teasing us about supporting Ipswich, with several digs about losing in the play offs to our rivals, but by the end of the match we were being complimented on the way Town had played, especially Murphy.

It was one of those evenings that made you proud to be a Town fan and showed that even if you can't make it to the game then you can still support the boys in your own way. Because of that, I see it as one of the main memories from my season.
 




Milton Keynes Dons: 0 Ipswich Town: 1


Following the Charlton game, my life took a huge turn as I discovered I am pregnant. It is something I have always wanted and so I am incredibly excited, but it did mean I had to make a serious adjustment to the way I enjoy my games - no more drinking!

So, MK Dons was the first game that I went to this season without having had a single drop to drink and, to be honest, it was probably easier that way. The ground is out in the middle of nowhere and the away day offers very little in terms of pre match meeting points.

I had not been to Stadium MK before and so I was keen to make the trip, but in hindsight it probably wasn't worth the extra hour added on to my journey home.

The venue, grey and uninspiring, suited the equally unimpressive game. I was, of course, very happy to see my third win of the season, particularly having gone so long without seeing one on my travel before this August, but it was terrible and didn't really feel like a victory.

 


Ipswich Town: 0 Derby County: 1

Another match attended on my travels down to Cornwall, this time to spend Christmas with my family. It was, once again, lovely to see all my friends but this time I didn't leave in the same positive mood that I had on my trip in August.

The game left me with a new, but very strong dislike for Derby, as they cheated their way through the game. An awful tackle on Freddie Sears went unpunished and former Norwich player Chris Martin spent ninety minutes hounding the referee for free kicks.

Despite this, you could tell they were a good side and just needed that little extra boost of quality to get them into the play offs. The game was followed by a massive £25 million spending spree for County, and them booking a place in the play offs some weeks ago.

On that day though, Town didn't match up and I was reminded of my feelings at the Blackburn game, that we probably just would not be good enough this year.

Thankfully, an overnight stay with my youngest sister in Ely where we were joined by my Dad soon helped me forget this, after all the football had been a bit of a 'side show' for this trip.
 

Birmingham City: 3 Ipswich Town: 0

This game came very shortly after another huge event in my life, my job was made redundant in January and the experience had been something of a shock. So, being back in the company of my close friends was hugely important to me and it was another rare game which my sister and I could both make together so that made it extra special.

We met at a busy little pub on what looked like the back of an industrial estate, Town fans were literally spilling out of the doors onto the quiet street outside. There, we enjoyed some entertainment provided by Norwich City as they took on Liverpool at Carrow Road.
As goal after goal went into the city net, the pub erupted with songs about Delia Smith and her saucepans and as we were walking to the ground we found out it had finished 5:4 to Liverpool. That score certainly lifted the mood of the Town fans as we headed into St Andrews, another new ground for me.

Perhaps the fact I had such a good day clouded my feeling over the actual result, but I didn't feel it was a fair reflection of the way we had played, particularly once Douglas had been sent off. We'd shown some resilience and fight and I hadn't felt particularly annoyed about the game as I made my way home.

 


Huddersfield Town: 0 Ipswich Town: 1

Another one of my favourite away days, I seem to say that a lot! But this is an easy one to travel to for me and I really like the John Smith's ground. We had an enjoyable time pre match in the town centre, chatting to other Huddersfield fans who were not expecting much from the game. Both set of fans were competing over who was more certain they were going to lose.

We have a terrible record playing here too, last year being another of the worst games of football I've ever seen, due to Huddersfield's style of football as much as our own. This year it wasn't much better but to my mind we dug deep for a win against a team that, like us, play not to lose. You can see my blog on the game here.

 

Bolton Wanderers: 2 Ipswich Town: 2

My only Tuesday night game of the season, things had got to the point where Town needed to win against a relegation side if they were to maintain any serious claim for a place in the play offs this season.

It was the 70th Anniversary of the Burnden Park disaster and I was very proud of the Town fans who began a round of applause on the 33rd minute to remember the 33 victims, hearing that ripple around the ground gave me goosebumps. It was one of those moments that reminded me of the important things in life: relegation or missing out on the play offs are just part of the rollercoaster that we've signed up to enjoy, but not one of us expects to go to a game of football and not return.

Sadly, the recent poor home performances had left fans with no confidence at all that we would get a result, but I felt that for the early parts of the game we looked in control. It was good to see us carry on after Bolton had equalised, but that second goal from Berra just didn't feel like enough to secure all three points.

 As we neared the 90th minute, my friend said to us, "it doesn't matter how much injury time they have, we'll let them score in the final minute". Thanks to a very late penalty conceded by Ainsley Maitland Niles, he was spot on.

For me, dropping two points here was what ended our season. As it turns out, of course, we needed more than those points to get into the play offs, but it was the last light of hope extinguished in my opinion.

 

Ipswich Town: 1 Brentford: 3

This match meant a lot to me on a personal level as it was to be my last trip to Portman Road for the season and most likely some time after that too. Once the baby arrives, I'd like to think I will manage a few games up here in Yorkshire but trips to Suffolk will be limited.

So Brentford at home was my own personal goodbye, knowing that when I return my life will be very different! Once again, a friend very kindly lent me a season ticket that wasn't being used and I was able to slip over to Block R in the Coop stand so that I could sit in 'my seat' where I once held a season ticket for many years.

Once again, the day was about more than the game to me and thank god it was or I'd have had an awful time! You can read my thoughts on the game here.

After a lovely time in the pub post match, discussing upcoming holidays and new Tractor Babies, I drove back to Yorkshire feeling quite emotional (I blame the hormones). I will miss my 'home', but I made a vow on that trip to make sure 'Tractorbump' sees how special Suffolk is to me and comes to view it in the same way.





Sheffield Wednesday:  1 Ipswich Town: 1

Another great away day in a city that truly has a lot to offer, we parked up at Meadowhall and took the tram into the city centre to get to one away fans pub before then catching another to head all the way to the ground.

Whilst waiting for kick off we talked about what results we had seen here and, in recent memory, we could only recall draws between the sides. With Wednesday still playing for a place in the play offs at the time, I felt we would be lucky to manage that. More thoughts on the game itself can be found here.

The atmosphere that day really was good fun and I am so proud to have been there for Andre Dozzell's goal scoring debut. Achieving a draw possibly shouldn't have been something to feel so happy about, but I was and I look back on the day fondly

 

Derby

And so to the final game of the season, something I have sworn never to miss. The last time I visited Derby's ground to watch a game was a performance that I won't ever forget and so the iPro is a ground that holds great memories for me.

I made that visit with my Dad and my sister for what was expected to be Matt Holland's final game for Ipswich. As we beat them 4:1 in another end of season tie, Matt scored the final goal of the game with what was his final kick of the ball in an Ipswich shirt. It's making my eyes fill with tears just thinking about it now!

 

Back to this year, with Derby already safe in the play offs I'm hoping they will rest some key players and our youngsters will be able to have a little fun. I would love to see us score a few goals as we did against MK Dons last week and see out the season with a win.

For when Town return again in August it will be without me in the grounds, as I will be facing life as a Tractor Mum for the first time. So, as I say goodbye to life as I know it, I am grateful that this season has held so many special memories that I will treasure for a long time yet.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

From Tractor Boy to Tractor Girl

Living in Yorkshire, I find social media gives me an opportunity to connect with a whole range of Ipswich fans that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.

One such fan that I would consider a 'friend' through our conversations online, was Mark Lees who is around the same age as me.

Towards the end of last year, I noticed that his status updates were becoming really quite painful, he seemed to be going through a very unhappy time and it was really sad to watch.

I was rather proud, then, to receive a 'friend request' from Jennifer Jo, who explained on her timeline that she was in the very early stages of moving away from her life as 'Mark' and coming out as a transgender woman. Her posts since that time have been incredibly open and I'm ever so proud of how brave she has been through what must have been a really difficult time.

One thing she mentioned she was nervous about was her friends at the football finding out and how she would be treated at Portman Road. I longed to offer her some support, to go with her to games for a bit of back up because, to be honest, I too was worried about how she would be treated.

After all, football is a man's world. At any match you go to, when there are groups of jovial men and boys gathered together, jokes about gender and sexual preferences are par for the course. At Ipswich, we have an incredibly lovely bunch of fans and such 'jokes' are rare and never meant with any malice, but that underlying mind-set does exist at times.

So, I have to admit that I was nervous for Jennifer. There has been some widespread coverage on the topic of transgender women in the last year or so, after radio presenter Stephanie Hurst went public with the experiences she had while 'coming out' and how it affected her job. But it's generally not a widespread conversation within football circles, I'd say it's a fairly untested subject that many have had very little experience of, including myself.

Earlier this year, I was worried when I noticed a friend of Jennifer's had posted a link to a thread on a Town fan's forum, talking about the transgender fan in the North Stand.

Having previously received some quite nasty comments on the site myself, despite never actually posting on it, I clicked the link and signed myself in - ready to defend Jennifer should the conversation turn inappropriate.

But I needn't have worried, the comments were so supportive and kind, they really made me very proud of our online community and restored my faith in humankind a little! The kind response from Town fans as a whole best summer up by this comment: 'Well done Jen... From my position a few rows back, you didn't seem to get any grief... People clearly recognised you, but were mature enough to respect you for who you are and appreciate you're one of us - a Town fan'.

At a time when the fan-base seems to have been split by opinions over our current manager and owner, it's easy to forget that, actually, we will always be there for each other through times that are hard, because we are all one big family (I know, so corny). We all share a common love for our football club and, no matter your gender, age, or background, that will always be the most important thing.

Today, as Jennifer prepares for her second appearance on the Portman Road pitch as part of the half time competition at Saturday's final home match, I am proud to share with you her thoughts on the experiences she has had over the last few months.

I know she will be given a lot of support at Portman Road on Saturday and I guess I just wanted to post this to say well done to her for being so brave, and thank you Town fans for being so lovely.

**Group hug**




My name is Jennifer Jo Lees, I have been an Ipswich Town supporter since the age of nine and a season ticket holder in the Sir Bobby Robson Lower since 2010.

I have seen some incredible matches at Portman Road in that short time, including the 1-0 win against Arsenal, Pablo's injury time winner vs Coventry and the 5-1 win against West Ham.

Most recently at the Rotherham game, I stepped on the Portman Road pitch at half time with two other people to take part in the penalty competition and successfully scored three penalties past academy keeper Nick Hayes to earn my place in the final.

The walk down the length of the pitch before hand was so unreal and to hear my friends in the Sir Bobby Robson stand chanting, "LEESY!!!! LEESY!!!! LEESY!!!!" was amazing and nerve wracking at the same time!

When I scored the last penalty, I was overcome with such excitement and happiness that I ran towards my fellow fans and celebrated by sliding on my back and raising my arms in victory which was well captured by the EADT photographer.

This was a very big moment for me, not only getting to the final but also walking onto the Portman Road pitch as a transgender woman in front of 20,000 fans.



I was born on the 8th May 1986 as Mark William Lees and have lived in Leiston, Suffolk, all of my life.

After 29 years of hiding my true gender identity and a previous failed attempt in trying to come out, I came out to my family, friends and work colleagues back in October that I am transgender and that I want to go down the very challenging path of becoming a woman.

This was met with a lot of love and support from my friends and work colleagues but as you can imagine was met with a lot a worry from my family. They tried to convince me to snap out of it, but I couldn't pretend to be happy being Mark when I knew deep down I wasn't. I realised I had to stop trying my best to please my family all the time and focus on me.

I remember going to the Huddersfield game at Portman Road. I just felt so blank and lifeless and my friends near me were beginning to notice that something was up with me. I guess it was because I was worried about losing my friends at the football and what they were going to say if I came out to them.

It didn't help matters that I had gone to Blackburn away the previous week and witnessed such an awful game, which we lost 2-0. The journey home just felt so long to be feeling the way I was about myself, I honestly felt like crying and knew that I had to make the big step!

I went out for the first time as Jen on the 30th October as a witch for Halloween and then the following night for a karaoke night at my local. The love and support that was shown to me was amazing and it was a night to remember!

I created a Facebook account for myself as Jen and created a two part coming out video. The friend requests and messages of support poured in!

After a lot of thought, I came out to my fellow Town fans on Facebook and it was met with total support and respect which really meant the world to me!

I spoke to my GP in November and he referred me to a counsellor who I spoke to on the phone in January this year. His challenge to me was to break down the barriers which were holding me back from being Jen at certain times.

And that is exactly what I have done.

I have been living full time as a woman for over six weeks, am now working as a woman and have legally changed my name to be known as Ms Jennifer Jo Lees.

The first Town game I went to as Jen was against Reading when we won 2-1 on the 2nd February. First game as Jen, first win!

I saw a post on TWTD after the game which was entitled, "Fair play to the guy who has come out as a girl in the Sir Bobby Lower"

Some of the comments were really funny and some a little bit offensive, not to mention there was a bit of confusion as to whether I was doing it for a bet or being totally serious. So, I signed up and introduced myself and this was met with total respect afterwards.

The experience of my penalty shootout inspired a lot of support from my fellow town fans and I got stopped a few times afterwards and congratulated.

I was contacted by the EADT later that evening and told that they were doing a piece about my success on the pitch and asked if I could say a few words about it. This lead to the EADT contacting me again to do a two page article in the paper about my life and Radio Suffolk contacting me to do an interview with the lovely Linda Walker for the Etholle George Breakfast Show which also featured a contribution from Kelly Maloney.

I was so pleased to get the chance to do this as my experience will hopefully help and inspire other transgender people who are still in hiding to find their voice and the confidence to come out and be themselves and know that they can do anything if they set their mind to it.

I am loving life so much right now and couldn't be happier!

Bring on the final on April 30th and May 8th when I celebrate my 30th birthday as a woman for the first time surrounded by such amazing friends!
Picture via the East Anglian Daily Times