Almanac (English) Soccer: The Day I Made it to Ipswich

THE DAY I MADE IT TO IPSWICH

by John Green

 

When I read the fixtures for Preston North End’s 2016/17 Championship campaign it made me smile. I would be going to Ipswich.
 

Two years ago I didn’t make it.

 

I was new to Preston, it was in the middle of winter and still pitch black at half past seven in the morning. Rugged up in a beanie, scarf, overcoat and thermals, I was on my way to catch one of the supporters’ buses at Deepdale, Preston’s home ground, to watch the Northenders take on Ipswich in an FA Cup match. Unfortunately I neglected to veer left at Deepdale Road, continued blindly along Ribbleton Lane and became hopelessly lost.

 

By the time I emerged breathlessly onto the tarmac outside the stadium everyone was gone. I had to content myself that day with a visit to St. Walburge’s church and a seat at the Bolton Wanderers v Blackpool match at Horwich Parkways up the road. A pretty good day as it turned out and I got to see Preston play Ipswich in a replay ten days later after their game finished in a draw.

 

I leave nothing to chance as I set out from the Ashwood Hotel and give myself an hour to cover the walk to Deepdale, which normally takes half that time.

 

The week started well for Preston. They played Oldham Athletic at home in a second round League Cup fixture on the Tuesday night. Oldham is part of Greater Manchester, which means that the Latics eke out a meagre existence in the shadows of United and City. They’ve had their moments. They were runners up in the first division back in 1915. They returned briefly to the Premier League in 1991 after a 68-year absence but were relegated in 1994. Since then Oldham has mostly plied its trade in the third and fourth divisions of the Football Association. The club faced insolvency in the early 2000’s before being bailed out by a U.S based English businessman called Simon Blitz.

 

Oldham has a new manager in Steve Robinson and has undergone a massive turnover of players since finishing in the lower reaches of League One in the previous season.

 

Surely an easy task for Preston at home – taking on a combination of journeymen and youngsters who have only recently been introduced to one another. Mind you, the Latics did manage to overcome Championship side Wigan Athletic in the first round of the League Cup to score the date with Preston.

 

Preston made six changes from the crew which overcame Queen’s Park Rangers on the previous weekend, resting key players such as Beckford, Gallagher and Wright and allowing reserve keeper Chris Maxwell to make his debut.

 

There were no goals scored in the first half. Any misgivings on the part of the home supporters were allayed in the second period, however, by two decisive strikes. Greg Cunningham drove into the penalty area from the left. Irishman Eoin Doyle captured the ball on the edge of the box, turned on the spot and drilled it past Connor Ripley. Doyle was involved again late in the game. Ripley was compelled to vacate the goal face and advance 30 metres out to his left to meet the ball. In attempting to bring it under his control by foot, he was robbed by Doyle. Doyle then launched a cross which was met by Jordan Hugill, who timed his run perfectly between defenders and gleefully headed the ball into the unattended net. I felt for the stranded Ripley, as the 23-year-old loanee from Middlesborough had acquitted himself well up until that point. Of course he was mercilessly baited by the home fans every time he kicked out after his embarrassing gaffe.

 

Preston advanced to the third round of the League Cup and would now take on Premier League club AFC Bournemouth in a midweek match scheduled for September.

 

It’s a long way from Preston to Ipswich, but not as far as Preston to Bournemouth, way down on the south coast of England. Ann, the lady I sat with on the bus to Ipswich, assured me that there were Preston fans who would make the 16-hour return journey by coach, arriving home at around three o’clock in the morning on a working day. As for us, we faced a 12-hour return trip to travel from Lancashire to Suffolk. Buses are slower than cars and this was a bank holiday weekend with a lot of vehicles on the motorways.

 

Ann is 63, widowed twice and two years away from retiring from her job as a hospital administrator. She loves soccer. On every occasion that she visits a stadium for the first time she takes photographs. Tomorrow she plans to watch a testimonial match for former Preston and Blackpool player Brett Ormerod in her home town of Kirkham. On the Monday holiday she will see her second team, non-league club Lancaster City, away at Bamber Bridge.

 

Ipswich normally refer to themselves as the Super Blues. Back in 1998/99 Ipswich was being well beaten at Birmingham City. The Brummie fans starting chanting “No noise from the tractor boys! No noise from the tractor boys!” The supporters from the massive urban conurbation were mocking the visitors’ rural heartland and agricultural origins in Suffolk. Ipswich is nowhere near the size of Birmingham and is that county’s only professional club. Without any major industries or manufacturing capability, the city is essentially a service centre for the farming communities of East Anglia.

 

Nevertheless, Ipswich supporters began to accept the moniker and refer to themselves with pride as the Tractor Boys. Not everyone was happy. Former player and manager Jim Magilton, who held the reins at Melbourne Victory for three months in 2012, felt it conjured up the image of “carrot crunching yokels.”

 

It’s fair to say that the club has traditionally punched above its weight. Ipswich joined the Football Association in 1938 after turning professional in 1936. They were First Division champions under Alf Ramsay in 1962 and FA Cup winners under Bobby Robson in 1978. The pair are immortalised by statues outside the Portman Road stadium and each has a grandstand named after them. Ramsay later became Sir Alf after famously guiding England to its sole World Cup victory back in 1966. For the past fifty years Ipswich Town has survived in the first and second divisions.

 

As we approach Ipswich on the A14 I am reminded for a moment of towns in western Victoria. Ipswich has concrete wheat silos, something I haven’t seen yet in my travels around England.

 

Around 300 PNE supporters have made the journey to the opposite side of their island. We take our place in the Cobbold Stand as part of a 15,000 strong crowd. And what a sedate home crowd it is. They are extremely well behaved.

 

They soon have something to cheer about. After 15 minutes Ipswich are on the attack. Jordan Hugill has ventured downfield to assist his defenders. The ball flies in, Hugill makes contact, but is unable to clear the area. Grant Ward latches onto the ball, pivots and fires without any real power. Preston goalie Anders Lindegaard doesn’t move as the ball is deposited into his net. Was Lindegaard unsighted? Was there a deflection? The Preston stopper is nonplussed and speaks animatedly to his clubmates. I don’t know what happened and there are no replays on a big screen. In fact there is no scoreboard.

 

For most of the afternoon Preston has the better of the home team but is unable to score, a frustrating scenario unfortunately common in the world game. Their best chance comes when Callum Robinson, whose father sits with us in the stand, overcomes a number of defenders before getting a punishing shot away, compelling Blues keeper Bartosz Bialkowski to make a spectacular save. Ipswich hardly come close to scoring again but run out 1-0 winners.

 

Preston has won only one of its first five encounters of the Championship season. Only Blackburn Rovers, caught up in conflict between owner, manager and supporters, sits below Preston on the table.

 

But there’s more trouble for the clubs from the north west of England on this summer’s day. Later that night we pull into the Norton Canes services on the M6 for a ten-minute stop. With no hot food allowed on the coach there’s only time for a quick muffin and cup of tea before we resume our journey.

 

“Dingles! Dingles!”

 

I’m mystified. Ann explains what the Preston people mean. They have spotted Burnley fans at the services. The reference to Dingles comes from the television series Ennerdale. The Dingles are a fictional family of smalltime criminals and shysters. Preston and Burnley are neighbours whose respective fans don’t get along. Referring to their rivals as Dingles is a putdown in the idiom of the north. The fact that the Clarets are returning from London after being mauled 3-0 by Chelsea is a source of glee for the Lilywhites. There is more sympathy for the blue and yellow clad barrackers from the Warrington Wolves rugby club. They are making their way home after going down 12-10 to Hull FC in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.

 

It was after eleven when I arrived back at the Ashwood. I always seem to have trouble swiping the plastic card in the reader at the exterior door to gain access. Marjorie, the owner, was on hand to open up for me.

 

She asked me how the day went. I related the sad state of affairs for the local team.

 

“But how many people can say they’ve been to both Ipswich in England and Ipswich in Queensland?” I asked.

 

Marjorie thought for a moment and had to agree that I was onto something here.

 

 

FAlmanac banner sq

Comments

  1. Love these how you take us along for the ride,didn’t enjoy the QPR v Preston result tho.What does the bus ride and entry tickets cost interested re the comparison ? thank you

  2. Thanks for this John.

    Years ago as a Wealdstone follower I saw them play a season’s last match in Salisbury. Among their chants/taunts of the locals was frequent reference to their rural setting and “tractors.” In a country where village lifestyles are a common aspiration it seems odd.

    I’ve met a surprising number of PNE supporters all over the planet.

    Enjoying your recounts.

  3. Peter Fuller says:

    John,
    Like Rulebook, I’m very much enjoying your account of your travels with Preston NE. Shades of Tim Parks “A Season with Verona” , although your team’s supporters seem decidedly more sedate and civilised. There is also some of Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” about your tales.

    With this report, I was reminded of a match report about a game at Portman Road in the 1970s when I was living in Europe. It was written by that nemesis of Australian cricket, Trevor Bailey, who as well as being an infuriating stonewalling batsman and handy mefium-pace bowler was a fine soccer player. After his playing days were over he enjoyed a moderately distinguished career as football and cricket correspondent for (improbably) the Financial. Times, as befits a Cambridge graduate. At a time when English football was plagued by hooliganism, Bailey noted in his report of an Ipswich home game that Portman Road was one of the very few venues where he felt comfortable taking his son to a match. Your account suggests that an air of civility is still a characteristic of the Ipswich support.

    Incidentally, Alf Ramsay’s accomplishment in winning the Division 1 Championship in 1961-62 is the more notable for it being their first season in the top flight and just five years ears after they had been playing in Division 3.

  4. Brilliant stuff, John.
    I was with you all the way, and disappointed in the 1-0 result.
    PNE will really need to lift from here.

    FYI, I have a couple of Burnley-supporting mates who are taking glee in Blackburn’s current plight.

  5. Rod Oaten says:

    John, A big match for both of us in the near future, PNE take on The Tykes.

Leave a Comment

*