Saturday, 1 April 2017

Ipswich Town 1 v Birmingham City 1 - EFL Championship

Saturday 1st April 2017
SkyBet EFL Champonship
at Portman Road
Ipswich Town (0) 1
Grant Ward 72
Birmingham City (0) 1
Jonathan Grounds 48
Admission £32.50. Programme £3
Attendance 16,667 (inc. 952 away fans)
Prior to today's game, Ipswich had won just once at home in 2017, while Birmingham have only chalked up one win on their travels during the same time span.
Both team's are level on points in the league table and have defences that are susceptible to momentary lapses and forwards who have had problems finding the net.
This afternoon's result means that the home side have drawn nine of their last twelve games
So if you'd been heading into Mr Ladbrokes get rich quick bookmakers emporium, to frivolously stick your hard earned (tax paid) stake on any kind of outcome, then a low scoring draw, would've been a nailed on option.
And... as if by magic!
Greater Anglia trains? 
WTF must Lesser Anglia trains be like?.
The journey to Portman Road, from Newark to Ipswich, via Peterborough station, has to be the most boring and soul destroying train ride in the known universe. 
Three hours and forty minutes (return) on a two unit boneshaker can test the mettle of either the most pragmatic and hardiest of seasoned travellers.
But hey! It was £8 more expensive if I'd gone the quicker way via London.
Times are hard and needs must.
At least the scenery was.... err, scrub that.
I had just about slipped into a catatonic stupor by the time we reached Stowarket and was feeling the symptoms of an onset of deep veined thrombosis as my stiff as a board torso contorted it's way out of the carriage and onto the platform at my destination.
I had always thought that Newark was the only town in England, that has a name which is an anagram of a singular swear word, but when I rang the well known Etymologist and Lexicographer Susie Dent, who some of you will have seen in 'Dictionary Corner' on Channel 4's 'Countdown' to ask her if Scunthorpe's claim that they share the same vulgar word letter reassignment distinction, with their offerings of Cunts-Hoper or even Cunt-Hopers.
But she confirmed that neither word was legit, not even in a hyphenated format.
Apparently Fucking-Chesterfield is acceptable as a singular word, but that isn't an anagram, so I am 100% correct in saying that Newark is the only English town that this applies this applies to.
But, If I'd have said British instead of English, I would have had to also include the Welsh village of Tunc and a smallholding in the Outer Hebrides that goes by the name of Sabdart.
And don't you dare go telling me that the Nottinghamshire town, just off of the A1, that perpetually smells odd because of the sugar beet factory there, is actually called Newark-upon-Trent.
Look, it is a long ride home and I've had lots of time to kill, murder even, writing this stuff... and, for the record, you can't disprove that I have Miss Dent's number on speed dial.
Ask her!
And might I suggest that regular Countdown viewers, who have been lusting over Carol Vorderman and Rachel Riley for years, because they occasionally flash a bit of thigh, or propped up boob cleavage, have been overlooking the real jewel in the crown, just because she wears sensible blouses and hides her pins behind a desk. Phwoar!
At Ely, an eldery lady got on and said she was going to bury St. Edmunds and asked me if she was on the right train. 
No need to ask directions from the station. "It is over there".
I advised her to ask the guard, or the gentleman walking ahead of the train with a red flag to warn people that we were approaching, because I didn't know the answer, but offered her my sincere condolences.
Kinnel! I didn't even know that St. Edmunds had even been poorly ;-)
I could have skipped all of the above and just written in bold capitals: FUCK THIS CAPER, I WILL DRIVE NEXT TIME.
With the greatest of respect, Ipswich, that's the town itself, has probably seen better days, a bit like it's local Football League club.
When a once thriving sports bar, stood next door to a Championship and former Premier League ground can't make ends meet and the shutters go up; well, a picture can paint a thousand words.
For purposes of illustration, I dragged a safety fence with a 'DO NOT ENTER BY ORDER' sign on it out of the way and took the above picture from the beer garden of the said pub: the 'Drum and Monkey'. I put the fence back, of course, but might I suggest that it serves no purpose, given that any old short arse with stumpy little legs, could quite easily straddle the car park fence. It would probably be really useful having parking facilities opposite the visiting fans turnstiles, if the local constabulary would've allowed motor vehicles to drive down Portman Road on a match day afternoon.
I know that the decline of the Public House trade is a nationwide trend, but it seems to stick in the craw that little bit more, right on the doorstep of a club that was once top flight champions, FA Cup and UEFA Cup winners and even lifted the Texaco Cup, whose successes were built, in the main, on money made from the brewery industry. 
Though it must be said that having had both Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson in charge during their glory years, was a massive fillip for 'the Tractor Boys' as some of their followers call them, while others probably wish that they wouldn't. It kind of, but kind of, works on the level of self depreciating humour, but if you ask me (not that you did), I think it sounds crap and should be ditched as a passing phase novelty ASAP.
Given the furore caused earlier this week, by the unveiling of a statue of Cristiano Ronaldo, on the occasion of the Aeroporto da Madeira being renamed in honour of the Portugese international footballer, one could be forgiven for questioning whether the sculptor Emanuel Santos had even laid eyes on the Real Madrid player before in his life. 
But the Ramsey and Robson tributes outside Portman Road, thankfully have a remarkable resemblance to both of the former Ipswich Town and England managers and were obviously created with no small amount of tender loving care.
Will we ever see their like again?
At club level, probably not, at international level, much as I like Gareth Southgate, not an effing chance!
But to be fair to any future (or current) England manager, both of these highly respect figures left behind some fairly massive shoes to fill.
As an aside, just one of those little titbits of information I felt that I should share with you all: Kevin Keegan, himself a great player for the national team, wore size six brogues while he was briefly in charge.
Which looked really spazzy with an Umbro shell suit.
But you can forgive him the odd fashion disaster or two, including the bubble perm, because he originates from Doncaster and such a dress code is commonplace there.
Upon entry at the turnstiles to the Cobbold Stand, not the ones depicted above, I hasten to add, this picture is there purely for decorative purposes, I passed two stringent searches and a good sniffing over by a dog from the drug detection unit... I kid you not! 
Before going in through a lovingly preserved 1960's style turnstile, I pulled a camera that had gone completely unnoticed out of my pocket and asked if it would be OK to use it in the ground. I went on to explain what a wanted to take a few pictures and the guy in charge gave me the thumbs up. 
A double one in fact.
So when I got up the stairs and took a picture of both teams warming up, I was non-plussed to be asked to stop what I was doing, by a female steward, because it contravened ground rules.
But she was polite enough and only doing her job, so I complied. While half a dozen people stood nearby filmed the teams warming up on their phones, many of which were bigger than my modest little Instamatic.
So upon reaching my seat I spoke to another steward who said "Oh, you'll be alright, just take a few though. So I took just a few... and was instantly pounced upon by another guy in a fluorescent coat who insisted that I should put the camera away... "And don't go taking any sneaky pictures, the moment my back is turned!"
The very thought... 
But I wasn't here to do a photo shoot, I merely wanted a few snapshots to break this long winded, boring and self indulgent text up a bit.
I was here to watch (and hopefully enjoy) a game of Association Football, played between two sides who were both in dire need of a win, to address their respective slides towards a potential relegation battle.
Drunks stumbled up and down the stairs, a lone angry Ipswich fan, stood next to where his wife and their very young child were sitting, gestured across the segregation area, offering the entire away support of nine hundred and fifty two 'often partisan' away fans outside, while shouting out taunts of "Come on then you Brummie cunts" to everyone's amusement. the aroma of some high quality Columbian export from a few seats away was making my eyes sting and basically, the vast majority of the away fans were doing what hell they wanted to... and then some!
It's all part and parcel of the game at this level and it was like water off of a ducks back to us old heads, as we avoided low flying missiles and the stream of abuse from a seriously angry guy who was running amok, all over the away section, telling anyone who would listen (and nobody really had any option but to listen) that they were "a set of traitors and bastards", for not singing songs in support of their team.
It can be all empowering or soul destroying in equal measure for the participants of an active football crowd and once you have experienced that buzz, you will keep going back for more.
Well, I do anyway.
All in all, the whole scene, with it's sights, sounds, colours and even smells; could give anybody who is alien to what is occurring, a sense of trepidation, that it's all going to fall apart at any given moment.
Yet there has never been a more structured and organised gathering and self governing body of people anywhere, than you'll find in a lively visiting supporters section of a football ground.
A lot of you will know exactly where I am coming from, but if you need it all explaining, you'd probably be better off going into the family seats.
Or try visiting Asda on a Saturday afternoon instead.
That doesn't make you a bad person by the way, you're simply not one of us. Weirdo!
So I turned to the steward who was evidently keen not to stray too far away from me and said:
"So basically, judging on what I am seeing here, the ground rules here are like this: you can't take a few photos, but other than that, you can do what the phuck you like!"
He agreed that it certainly seemed that way today.
To be fair, the stewards at Portman Road were decent and understood the lay of the land and 'rules of the terraces' much better than a lot of the draconian bully boy types I have encountered elsewhere. Credit where it is due.
I tend to gravitate towards a great deal of what a lot of people present here today would call grassroots football a lot of the time, because I seriously enjoy putting something back into and contributing towards, a game that has given me so much, for a lot of years, as an 'active' member of the football tribe and all of what that entails.
But, though I can still recognise the beautiful game for what it is when twenty two teenagers are going through their paces in front of a dozen parents and a handful of other spectators, I suspect that I'll never be able to, or even wish to, retire from the sort of outings that standing in the seated away section at Portman Road today and similar venues, still represent.
Big businesses, corporations and money men, can sanitize and mess around with the game all they want to, but while-soever there are still like minded people of all ages who still feel that buzz and will go to any lengths to travel the 'long, long road', they'll never be able to steal the game's heart and soul, nor recreate, replicate or replace it with their box office televised variant.
Take a look around, away followings at a lot of clubs are on the increase. 
People have tried the televised version of the game and now they want to experience real away days once again.
Or, as my lovely and very patient missus said when I arrived home several hours after the game: "It's nice to see you reliving your teenage years old man"
As you will have noticed, I have avoided mentioning the actual match very much as of yet.
That is because as an enjoyable day out, there was much to say about this particular trip, that notwithstanding the total dirge of the travel itself, made this a memorable morning, afternoon and night. 
However, narrating much of that activity, as no place on a football orientated blog, nor any other kind of eye witness account.
But the game itself. Hmm... let's just say... there is a highlights video on the Ipswich Town YouTube channel, that encompasses both goals and all of the chances created by these respective sides. 
It runs for a total of just two minutes and seven seconds in duration. 
Which I think sums things up.
This wasn't down to savage editorial cuts, it genuinely captured all of the best bits.
When the Birmingham fans responded to taking the lead in the forty eighth minute, with a chorus of: "How shit must you be? We're winning away!", their taunt was met by a round of applause from the home fans.
Truth be told, neither side could afford to lose this one, or take any risks.
At full time, they both sat perilously, just six points clear of the drop zone, with seven games each left to play.
It is squeaky bum time all round.
On Tuesday, Gianfranco Zola's side face a difficult trip to promotion chasing Brighton & Hove Albion and next Saturday Derby County visit St. Andrew's, with the familiar face of Gary Rowett at the helm. It will be his first time back at his old club, TV punditry apart, since his controversial sacking.
Ipswich are at Portman Road again in midweek, when they take on struggling Wigan, before travelling down to London for a game against Fulham who will be well up for it, given their need for points to bolster their play off push.
The first half was a nervy affair, and it was apparent that neither team were going to break their tight ranks and push on for all three points, for fear of leaving themselves exposed to a counter attack and ultimately an unthinkable defeat.
Emilio Nsue and Ryan Shotton both had decent efforts on goal, but couldn't keep their shots on target. Personally, I would like to ask that nice Mr Zola, who obviously knows far more about the game of football than I ever will; why is it, that while Blues (in red today) were knocking eight or nine consecutive passes around, while the Blues (actually in blue today) chased shadows, that the visiting players, regardless of their given position, rotated as a unit as they stroked the ball about, that left their own defenders with the job of finishing off any given prolonged move, in front of the opposition goal, thus leaving their own keeper exposed, if the Ipswich keeper, Bartosz Bialkowski, should make a save, y'know like he is supposed to do and hit a long clearance while the Birmingham defence were still all over the place?
Don't get me wrong, I loved the Dutch style of 'Total Football' back in the day, with all players in all positions being comfortable on the ball, just as much as anyone else, but putting that kind of system into operation right now, or at least trying to, could prove to be Championship suicide, if City don't hurry up and get some points on the board by any means necessary, really soon.
I'm not advocating that either of this sidesshould go long all the time, or abandon any plans for a brave and bright new dawn ahead altogether, just for some short term gains.
But for the time being at least, it is not the time for rehearsals, or practising, so give over fannying about with the ball and try playing from the back to the front, instead of from one side to the other and then back again.
With a few more points on the board, now would be an ideal time to prepare for next season and to try implementing the sort of style that the manager craves to play, but Blues haven't got the luxury of time right now and just two wins in twenty games is an horrific statistic. 
League tables don't lie. 
Both of these teams must surely have some better times ahead, but they desperately need to stay in the Championship to build on their current (shaky) foundations and move forward.
Although the passing and movement off of the ball by the visitors, was very easy on the eye and aesthetically pleasing at times, especially when viewed from a panoramic angle up in the top of the Cobbold Stand, the lack of any end result outweighed any of that fancy stuff tenfold.
Freddie Sears shot straight at Tomasz Kuszczak and then had a goal ruled out for offside, meaning that the Ipswich fans, who had just cheered an effort that had actually ended up in the wrong side of the netting as well as the ruled out strike, were now doubly fair game for a few hand gestures and taunts.
But they suffered a real blow to their Championship survival hopes, just three minutes after the break, when Bialkowski saved Lukas Jutkiewicz's initial shot, only to see the loose ball fall nicely for Jonathan Grounds, who cracked the ball into the roof of the net.
Advantage Birmingham! 
Jutkiewicz almost doubled the visitors lead when Craig Gardner back-heeled the ball to him, from on the edge of the Ipswich goal area, but Bialkowski pulled off a good and very timely save.
Unfortunately, the worry about defenders being AWOL on walkabout, to fit into Zola's passing structure, proved to be their undoing, when Grant Ward made good of the space ahead of him on the right and sprinted to the bi-line, where his over hit cross ended up in Kuszczak's net.
In the aftermath of the game, Zola seemed to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Kuszczak, for the way that his side squandered two points and had to settle for just one, saying that Birmingham keepers stance was wrong to deal with Ward's shot.
Everyone in the ground, including Ward, was anticipating a cross, so understandably Kuszczak had moved forward fractionally to deal with the incoming ball.
Ward struck the ball well and his strike looked spectacular, but it was a fluke.
They all count though.
What Zola really should have been addressing is: where was the defender who should've picked up Ward and prevented him from making any kind of delivery?
Have a bleedin' guess!
So who should really have been carrying the can for letting the lead slip?
I know whose inflexible game plan I'm blaming.
It nearly got worse for the visitors when Kevin Bru steered the ball wide of the post ,right at the end of the game, but all told, a point apiece, from a very predictable full time score of one goal apiece, was probably a right and just result.
FT: Ipswich Town 1 v Birmingham City 1
Even the trainspotters had abandoned Peterborough station by the time I got back there, for my connecting train, although there were still a few clusters of football supporters dotted about, making their way home.
What a sad and obsessive bunch we are.
I really need to get a life; one that doesn't revolve around travelling all over the place to watch football matches, quite often by way of a selection process of the most random nature.
And I will do once this season, or next, or the one after that is over.
Or at some point in the distant future.
Who am I kidding?