When you think of the demographic of teams supported here I know it will be of no surprise and fair to say that Man Utd, Liverpool and maybe Arsenal and Celtic are the majority’s choice in Ireland. Go a little further down the list and Chelsea, Leeds even Villa would have a smattering of support, but then what about the rest? What about the teams whose names are rarely mentioned, perhaps only because of a cup match against one of the so called big teams. What about a team that have won a European Cup , the FA Cup and a Division One (old division) league title , not to mention teaching Pele everything he knows. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ipswich Town Football Club.
Ipswich is a fantastic spot for all manner of reasons, a few of which I will share with you. A short flight to Stansted, then an hour down the road to the hotel. You can see Portman Road from the hotel, it’s not even a 5 minute walk away. The town centre is even less of a walk from the hotel, it really is a case of dropping your bag in the room and now go and enjoy yourself.
Five and Hawk have always supported the Town. I never asked them why it’s just how it was, I mean it didn’t need explaining. The fact that it may not have been the populist choice, so what they love their team. Just for clarity they are not from Ipswich (they are from Cork), it was actually passed down the line. Micheal who is the Five’s dad is Town mad, all of his children bear witness to this as they are named after Ipswich players of times gone by. Anyway the lads head over to Portman Road a couple of times a year, and somehow I ended up going a few years ago, and to be honest with you, it really is a weekend away that everyone should sample.
This time the Captain and I were the hangers on, with the two boys as staunch as ever. Now this may not be understandable to some, or even ever acceptable but to enjoy the experience, to savour the moment, to make the most of the weekend, I morph into an Ipswich fan.
I clap when they come out, I cheer when their names are read out over the tannoy , I applaud the subs when they are warming up. I shout abuse at the ref (this is normal though, isn’t it?) and I hug the boys and any other Town fan around me who will let me when they score. Get into the moment? I embrace it with both hands. I never thought it would happen, and even now I’m not sure how or why it happens. It’s not contrived, it’s not planned, but when I walk up the steps and emerge into the Alf Ramsey stand I find myself shouting ‘c’mon the Town’ like a seasoned, battle weary supporter.
If I think about it this is how I reason my reaction. Before the game we will have a few cordial just to be social pints in and around the Town centre. The little buzz you get from seeing fathers and sons, mothers and daughters , wearing their scarves and hats. Their pre match ritual of a drink, a bite to eat, then move down towards Portman Road. Walk around the club shop, buy a programme then into the ground. Have a bet, read the programme, get a polystyrene cup of tea and a pie that‘s seen better days. It’s the ‘jumpers for goalposts’ cliché of football, but its real and if you are truly in love with the game its sensational to be a part of.
Look there is no getting away from the fact that the big names are not necessarily out there, the standard of football can be at times ‘Sunday league (ish)’ in comparison to the teams we are used to seeing on MOTD (although this is also debatable).
But it doesn’t de-tract or take away from the football experience. I got goosebumps when I walked up the stand and got my first glimpse of the pitch, heard the buzz of the crowd, the stadium announcer, can Saturdays get any better ?
Go into ‘Legends’ bar below the Alf Ramsey stand and the room is adorned with pictures of players past. Terry Butcher, Paul Cooper, Alan Brazil, Frans Thijssens, John Wark and John Walters (!) to mention just a few. I look around the bar, look at the different faces, the different ages, and the thing that strikes me is the honesty. All these people invest money, time, heart, loyalty and many other things, without compromise. Neither are they fixated with ideas of grandeur, despite this being a club with supporters who have experienced the pinnacle of success domestically and on the European stage and here they still are. Their only demand is that the team respects them and gives them their all, good football, hopefully a win, but regardless they will be back next week. ‘When Saturday comes around’ it’s what makes football so special and Ipswich such a delight to be around.
Make no mistake this is a club with real pedigree some of the biggest names in football have turned out for Ipswich and managed them. Alf Ramsey and Bobby Robson back during the heyday, and more recently such great names as George Burley and Joe Royle. Mick McCarthy is now at the helm with his trusted lieutenant Terry Connor and they have without question steadied the ship. A few months ago the unthinkable looked possible and whilst they are still not out of danger, things look brighter at Portman Road. It’s amazing the transformation that can occur when a change of manager happens. Although McCarthy may not have been the fans overwhelming choice when the job became available, (that was reserved for Curbishly) I doubt too many would argue with his impact. I believe him to be a manager who has not really been paid the respect he deserves (generally).
Anyway back to the game, a 4-0 win for Ipswich. Terry Connor was giving the orders as big Mick was laid low with a virus. They moved the ball nicely in parts, but still lacked the killer ball. The one time they cut through the Boro’ defence in the first half the keeper made a nice save. It was a good old fashioned centre half’s goal that opened Town’s account, Tommy Smith heading in from a corner, only for him to better it late on from another corner routine to grab his brace. Those goals sandwiched a cracker from Mcgoldrick and a deserved goal for Mclean albeit courtesy of a wicked deflection. N’daw and Hyam in the centre for Ipswich played very nicely and it’s one of the best Ipswich team performance’s I’ve seen over the years.
So going to Ipswich for the weekend gets a big recommendation from me. It literally ticks all the boxes for a football fan, irrespective of who you support. The Boro’ fans we got talking to do Ipswich every year, the Swansea fans we met last time did Ipswich every year. Is this unusual? I don’t think so but to just cast it aside because everyone has their favourite away weekend does it a disservice. Maybe it’s the camaraderie of being away with the lads, the tribal routines of going to the café and the bookies on the morning of the game before getting a few pints. Maybe it’s a lot of things combined, but the town and the fans there really are a credit and as long as Micheal O’Flynn, Hawk and Five keep going, then the likes of Captain and myself will keep ‘standing up for the Tractor boys’.
by Kieran Flanagan