IPSWICH TOWN 1-1 BIRMINGHAM CITY
Portman Road, 1 April 2017
Mick McCarthy has a way with words: a sparse, searing honesty as out of place in our modern world of fake news, as lace up leather footballs or the Texaco Cup. Which by the way and for younger readers in danger of defecting to support teams like Chelsea or Lincoln, who play football that sometimes results in direct attempts on goal, Ipswich won in 1972-3 by beating Norwich 4-2. The Texaco Cup was a pre-European Union inter-club knockout competition mostly between teams from England and Scotland.
It was also a topic of animated discussion before Saturday afternoon’s game, due to the fact that I was in the company of David and Kevin: middle aged men like me, one of whom is proper Scottish, and the other who not only started supporting Ipswich at about the time we won the Texaco Cup, but was so impressed he went on to work for the very same company. That conversation was just one of the afternoon’s many high spots, spoiled only by attending a football match which has almost totally disappeared from my memory: despite writing this report only 4 hours after its conclusion.
So far as I recollect, the game was against another under-performing club from the same league owned by people who also, rather like the faceless mystery named Marcus, don’t really seem to know what they are doing. Apparently this club had a really good manager and all round nice guy called Gary. Four months ago, Gary had somehow manoeuvred them to the verge of the play-oofs. Yes I know they’re the play-offs, but this Ipswich team are preparing themselves for the play-oofs. Because, despite not being a real word ‘oof’ kind of sums up how Ipswich now play. Which is not exactly hoofing it all the time, nor totally oafish, but conveniently falling somewhere in the space between; space in which Ipswich have craftily cornered a niche in the modern football market.
In this niche Ipswich players run around quickly, looking purposeful and mostly keeping their team shape until the moment just before they lose their shape and give away another goal; a goal that never looked on the cards until that precise moment, just before it happened. This probably explains why modern Ipswich players always look anxious. Even in the team huddle before the game kicks off, you can see their stress levels rising: fingers uncomfortably clawed by anxiety into a teammate’s back, rather than just resting on it in the cool, manly and relaxed camaraderie that a team huddle SHOULD project, towards an intimidated opposition.
Anyway, the other team that Ipswich were playing today (please do keep up), that Club’s owners were so bored by nearly getting into the play-oofs that they decided to sack Gary. An inspired business decision, perhaps prompted by the Birmingham board’s attendance on a Marcus Evans management course? At these apparently people learn how to ‘handle unvoiced and invisible objections’ whilst ‘using empowerment to unleash motivation’. Unleashed they certainly were, coming up with the inspired idea that to embed the football club more deeply in the community, Gary’s replacement should be named after a French novelist. This hasn’t strictly worked.
OK Birmingham was shortlisted to be Britain’s first city of culture in 2010, along with Sheffield, Norwich and Londonderry: but what kind of a cup competition is ‘culture’? And it says a lot about Birmingham’s cosmetic commitment to the said ‘culture’ that even the appointment seven years later, of somebody in remembrance of a pulseless Gallic storyteller called Zola, has proved so unpopular with its football fans. It is almost like the Brum public have stood by the 2010 decision, that they couldn’t be bothered to get stuck into a synthetic ‘competition’ between cities from across the UK; cities that everybody can see on a map, but most people never visit.
Which of course bring us back to the Texaco Cup. Birmingham competed in it during 1973-4 and 1974-5, but never won it. Ipswich entered just once and have a 100% record, thrashing Norwich in the final. Self-evidently then Ipswich should have had the psychological edge on this 1 April 2017 crucial clash to decide the Championship’s two most pressing issues of the day. Issue Number one being ‘which teams’ fans are the most pissed off with their absentee landlord owners?’ Issue Number 2 being ‘which one of the two teams before us (and five teams elsewhere who are also chronically underperforming) are going to utterly cock it up today, and edge nearer both to Wigan and to Division 1?’
As it happened, the result of the first contest was a clear home win. Ipswich fans sang loads of rude songs about their owner, while there was barely a disenchanted squeak through the Bluenoses. And in predictable fashion neither side managed to land a decisive footballing blow to win the second. The result of this game – and had I mentioned it was quite forgettable? – saw them both move a point nearer to the Nirvana of being utterly-dull-but-still-in-the-championship.
And Nirvana, of course, is where we come back to Mick McCarthy. Most people making it this far into one of my less conventional match reports, will be familiar with the definition of Nirvana. But just in case you need refreshing Nirvana is ‘a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.’
Sounds familiar? Yes today’s massive scoop is that big Mick’s a Buddhist, whose final goal is to be a lot Karma than he used to be. And his spiritual leadership is self-evident: managing to leave 16,000 paying customers on a sunny Saturday afternoon, in a state of such transcendence that no desire or sense of self remained at the final whistle.
Yet the reason I still love McCarthy is that he has the strength and honesty to admit everything. Here is his match report:
“We lost all momentum through giving a shite goal away… Bart kept us in it with a save … We weren’t playing well, it was a horrible atmosphere and we got away with a wonder strike or lucky cross and we got a point. That’s my summary of the game.”
April fool? Sadly not…
And for anybody feeling short-changed, which seeing as you are reading this for free you really shouldn’t, here’s my own little summary:
Ipswich lined up 4-3-1-2
Birmingham chose not to.
Nothing happened for ages
Particularly in midfield
Though Berra jokingly headed towards his
Own goal, and it could have been
Had Bart not caught it; which
Is what he’s paid for?
Jutkiewicz was the Brummy
Numbered 15 and really
Rather good. He shot in the 49th minute
It bounced off Bart and Christmas
Came early for Grounds. Which
Is a great name for a footballer
When you think about it?
Poor Cole Skuse got in another
Fight he didn’t pick, coming
Off worse and coming off
In the first half. Apparently Bru
Came on for him though
Nobody really noticed.
Sears keeps kicking balls into the
Side of nets. It gets confusing
With all those posts around
Then Jutkiewicz did another shot,
I think they’re called. Great save
Barty boy and unlucky Bluenoses.
But Grant saved the day. He disdained
Kicking the ball directly at
Goal. That’s for oafs. Wardy
Floated his in, from far
On the wing. Kuszczak
Just gazed in admiration
We were all quite glad for
In truth nobody knows
Not even Big Mick.
Why are we here?
1. At the end, Emile Zola was still as dead as he has been since 1902. But GianFranco (honestly) said. “A lot of players have run a lot”.
2. When Ipswich makes its 2032 bid to be the Texaco City of Culture, there’s a strong chance that this poem may secure us last place.
Match review by Grant Bage