Down with the Town after end of the World

A WARM sun shone, the Bobby Robson Stand was in cheerful mood – at least before kick-off – and that old hot-dog-stand aroma was in the air again.

It was a big day for a seven Ipswich players all making their home league debuts.

And it was a pretty big day for me too. The first time I’d been to a live football match on a Saturday since… well…

The last time I’d attended a Saturday game, a Danish midfielder named Claus Thomsen had scored one of the five goals that made him Ipswich’s top scorer for that season.

The other goal proved to be Andy Cole’s last for Newcastle before a shock move to Manchester United. (Later that season he became the first player to score five goals in one Premiership game, but maybe that’s a memory we don’t want dredging up.)

Josh Carson was still in nappies, Aaron Cresswell in his first year of primary school, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was not yet four – and Lee Bowyer was in his first season as a professional with Charlton. Even the veteran Nick Barmby, now of Hull , was still with his first club, Tottenham.

It was nearly 17 years ago, and I was on the verge of heading to Suffolk to meet up again with two men I’d known in my previous existence as a North-East sports hack.

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Quite by chance, I arrived here three weeks after George Burley took up the Portman Road reins and a month before Alex Mathie came to Town.

To meet them again, yes – but never on a Saturday.

One of the ironies of this supposedly glamorous life is that my love of football took me into sports journalism only to spend almost every Saturday of my adult life in an office. Well, someone has to put those Sunday sports pages together…

The last time I paid to watch Saturday footy – before last weekend – Bobby Robson was the Ipswich manager, not a stand, Burley was in his playing prime, Osman and Butcher were the young pretenders to Hunter and Beattie’s centre-back berths, while Thijssen and Muhren were working their Dutch magic in midfield.

Which may give you some idea what a red-letter day last Saturday was in the Semmens household.

The first football Saturday since the winding-up of the News of the World, where I might otherwise have been editing a couple of pages on Arsenal’s trip to Newcastle .

To add even more personal historical spice to the start of the new term, last season was the first for more than 40 years in which I hadn’t been to a single game.

I’d been a regular Sundays and midweek attender, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to pay good money to watch a Roy Keane team. Now, under Paul Jewell, hope springs again.

Pity, then, that the Hull game turned out to be such a damp squib.

Perhaps it was inevitable that a side with a majority of newcomers should look as if they’d barely been introduced. (Did you also notice, by the way, that a majority of Town’s starting XI were left-footers?)

Let’s hope that with time to get to know each other, this new line-up will gel into a real team – something we’ve not really seen at Ipswich since the departure of Joe Royle.

They looked anything but on Saturday.

Then on Tuesday night Southampton ran the Blues ragged simply by knowing when and where to run, and when and where to pass the ball.

They were a team; we weren’t.

Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs in the gloom.

Cresswell looks a fine player. Michael Chopra showed a good work ethic in both games as well as touches of the class we know he has. And Keith Andrews has an air of Matt Holland about him.

After looking on Saturday like a young Emile Heskey – top-heavy and leaden-footed – Emmanuel-Thomas lifted things for a while when he came on at half-time on Tuesday.

He’s surely better up front than out wide. And he has some tricks in his box that Heskey’s never had.

I wound up my unaccustomed free Saturday watching my old team Newcastle on the box in a convivial Woodbridge pub. Terrible game, but never mind, it was a taste of how others have been living all these years.

So now for tomorrow’s telly game.

Peterborough away sounds like a good opportunity for Jewell’s men to start looking like they’ve met before. Let’s hope.