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



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.

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