Ipswich reflect on former glories
It would take someone much brighter than me to write the thesis on why some football teams have a halcyon period in which they punch above their weight. Ipswich Town were promoted to the old division one in
1960 1961 and became champions of the league at their first attempt in the following year. In the next year, it took none other than AC Milan to knock them out of the European Cup.
They have been managed by a couple of knights, Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, and the North-East hero Jackie Milburn. Thus was their history during a golden burst akin to the growth spurt of a child. All this was at a time when, in all respects, Ipswich was considered to be a rural backwater.
Slightly better infrastructure has brought Suffolk in from the cold but, considering its landmass and proximity to London, East Anglia is somewhat bereft of football clubs, probably fairing only better than outposts such as Cumbria, Northumberland and Cornwall. Town’s few footballing neighbours include Cambridge United, Peterborough United and main rivals Norwich City, who are literally out of their league.
I join the A1 at Peterborough and take the ghastly A14 bypassing Cambridge after which the traffic thins and so does my blood. Only in England would we connect our largest container port with our industrial heartland via such unsuitable and dangerous roads while proposing a rail link from London to Birmingham!
Ipswich is a port that acquired its wealth through the wool trade in medieval times, the remnants of which can still be seen in the fine remaining guild buildings of that period. Today, it is a town that like many others is suffering from the current difficult economic situation, although having no close shopping rivals the streets are still buzzing and the old port has been regenerated with the usual smart bars, cafes and apartments. I like it and wish I had kicked myself out of bed to get here early enough for a proper look around.
At the ground, I seek out the large comfortable players’ lounge – nice view of the players’ car park packed with the usual silly toys – and find it wedged into a corner of Portman Road and occupied by one Wag and child. A couple of weeks ago, I was in the culinary heaven of Al Fayed’s Craven Cottage and, last week, saw me pie-and-chipping at York City. But this week is a revelation as I am asked to pay £1.60 for my coffee and offered a couple of biscuits. The martinet Sir Alf would have approved.
It’s a bit of an historic day at Portman Road as, on the 50th anniversary, six members of the 1962 title-winning squad will be on hand as a stand is renamed in honour of Sir Alf. Current manager Paul Jewell has urged today’s players to “put on a show” for their predecessors in front of the 20,000 locals. The 192 away fans from Barnsley take comfort in his less than confident request that the old players “bring their boots”.
Their presence might have enlivened a turgid first half although we get a taste of things not to come when, after three minutes, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has a 25-yard free kick held by keeper David Button. Midway through the half, JE-T, playing wide on the right, pops up again to have a goalbound header blocked by the Tykes’ Scott Wiseman. At right back, the impressive Carlos Edwards soaks up everything Barnsley chuck at him (not a lot) and looks a class above his peers.
Ipswich are dominant but it’s a tit-for-tat chess game with most of the tat coming from Barnsley, who look ready for a summer break. Not until the 39th minute do the Tykes produce a save from Town keeper Arran Lee-Barrett as Korey Smith drives a shot that squirms uncomfortably. The home crowd are quiet and give their opinion by forming queues at the concessions long before the half-time whistle.
Perhaps sensing that a “Paul Jewell Stand” is a long way off, the manager has obviously entreated his players to show a bit of passion and they duly oblige by netting within four minutes of the restart. The lardy front two link up as Michael Chopra plays Daryl Murphy in and the on-loan Celtic man beats Button with a shot off the inside of a post – surely a signal of the goalfest to follow.
But no … more huff and puff follows, the highlight of which is a magnificent left-foot shot from JE-T from outside the area, hit so hard that it rebounds off the bar back to him for another try with his other foot. Shortly after, Murphy should have scored a second with a one-on-one that he managed to lob wide.
On 70 minutes, Chopra is replaced by Jason Scotland, who immediately creates a chance for Lee Martin. With only the keeper to beat, the ex-Manchester United player skilfully manages to miss the net. The game is more open and Lee-Barrett is kept busy. Barnsley, like the rest of us sensing that their opponents are running out of ideas, for a while force Town on to the back foot. But it is going to be a game decided by whose forwards are the worst at finishing and, in that respect, Barnsley shade it.
It has been a long trip for little reward. The “Tractor Boys” deserve their win but it is an arse-end-of-the-season type of game with not much to fight for. Apart from when on their holidays, neither of these teams are heading anywhere soon.