Anyone who grew up in an era when Ipswich Town were among the top clubs in the country, playing a brand of progressive football that drew comparisons with the best that Continental Europe could offer, has difficulty in coming to terms with Ipswich’s current reduced status.
Portman Road is still a neat stadium, imposing in the slower-paced East Anglian town that Ipswich is (population 133,000), but it lacks the space-age dynamism that modern grounds are now expected to be. Thank the Lord!, I say, for Ipswich’s home looks like the identikit football ground where bobble hats, rattles, steaming Bovril and bar scarves might still be found.
Yes, it looks dated in the way that grounds that were “modernised” in the 1960s and 1970s now look, but anyone wishing to wallow in a little nostalgia and remind themselves that some football grounds were pretty well OK before the architects starting to introduce white steel arches, domes and ramps, would do worse than visit Portman Road.
There’s a pleasing lack of police horses, the crackle of walkie-talkies (or whatever they use these days) and oceans of hi-vis, and people seem to be genuinely pleased to see you at Ipswich Town FC. It is, without doubt one of the friendliest places I have visited as a fan, from the obliging turnstile operator to the “where would you like to sit” attitude of the stewards.
But what would you expect of a club from a town whose chief contributions to industry were beer, sugar beet and lawnmowers. There’s an air of relative calm about the place – no wonder there’s a “Silent Street” in the town centre. Ipswich was also responsible for pop singer Nik Kershaw, but the less said about that the better.
Some clubs have one statue outside their ground, but Ipswich have two, a reminder that they have had some remarkable success in its history. Sir Alf Ramsey stands across the road from the stadium, in his trademark grey flannel suit, looking more like a pre-war bank manager than a football manager. Ramsey brought Ipswich the league title in 1962 and four years later, England the World Cup. There’s bird droppings dripping from Ramsey’s forehead, a little symbolic, perhaps, of how he was treated by the Football Association. A few yards away, Bobby Robson’s effigy points people to the stadium. They’re both excellent statues, deserving of a better location than a pair of car parks and a resting place alongside the cheesy chips and burgers of the street food vendor, but at least they’re very visible. At the same time, the huge image of Sir Bobby Robson that adorns the stand bearing his name may just put added pressure on the men now holding office at Ipswich. Sir Bobby has been a tough act to follow these past 30 years.
I saw Ipswich earlier this season at Stevenage and quite frankly, they were awful. Their visitors, Burnley, came to Portman Road a Championship leaders. I witnessed their game at Brighton in August and they were not very good on a wet afternoon. But it proved to be their first and only defeat so far. They had won their last five league games, the last being at home to Reading on October 5. Ipswich had improved on their early Capital One Cup exit and had lost just once in seven games.
Burnley had won just once at Portman Road before in 19 visits. That was in January 1970 when Frank Casper scored the only goal. Burnley were still a top flight club in those days but there’s a growing feeling that their manager, Sean Dyche (known as the ‘Ginger Mourinho’), is moulding a side that can take Burnley back to to the top. He’s got a small squad that has been assembled with limited resources. But his hard-working pair of young strikers, Sam Vokes and Danny Ings, have been in top form this season, and I was impressed with Scott Arfield and Michael Kightly, who I remember playing in non-league football with Grays Athletic.
The first half was undistinguished, although Ipswich could have gone ahead when Cole Skuse’s half-volley was cleared away from danger by Kieran Trippier. Burnley should have made more of chance created by Ings, who sent over a low, hard cross from the byline that just needed the slightest touch to find the back of the net.
The most notable event of the half, however, was when Ipswich keeper Dean Gerken, who looks more like a Nordic trawler skipper than a footballer, went off injured, allowing Scott Loach the chance to shine. He later did well to stop a Kightly effort.
The second period was more open, with half chances coming at both ends. Loach was busier than his Burnley counterpart Tom Heaton, but generally, the game just seemed to lack that vital spark.
The game was decided in the 80th minute when a Trippier cross was headed home into the far corner of the goal by Arfield. Heaton skipped with delight at the opposite end, sharing the celebrations of the 600-plus Burnley fans in the 16,062 crowd.
And so, Burnley won at Ipswich for the first time in 43 years. And they also created a club record in winning nine of their first 12 games of the season – a feat last achieved in 1897. As for Ipswich, they need firepower- but who doesn’t these days? – if they are to challenge for the play-offs. How they could do with an Alan Brazil, Paul Mariner or even Ray Crawford….
Categories: English Football