500 plus miles for a 4-1 defeat, a long day in the lives of Ipswich Town fans

Town fans with their inflatables at Middlesbrough

Town fans with their inflatables at Middlesbrough

A total of 444 Ipswich Town fans made the trip to the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on Saturday to watch Mick McCarthy’s men lose 4-1. WILL RIDGARD went along, experiencing first-hand what it’s like to be a die-hard Ipswich fan.

444 Ipswich Town fans made the journey to the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on Saturday. A game I

444 Ipswich Town fans made the journey to the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on Saturday. A game Ipswich lost 4-1.

3am – It’s cold, it’s dark, and my alarm is snoozing itself back to sleep following a solid three-and-a-half hour’s shut-eye. ‘You Skuse, you lose’ I say to myself as I stumble to my feet, ruffle my hair, leave the fresh sheets of my warm bed behind, and pack myself some egg sandwiches.

3.30am – Blurry-eyed with my glasses making little to no impact, I set off towards Portman Road, ready to board the 4.30 Galloway coach service to the Riverside Stadium. I see many strangers in the night, staggering sideways from various kebab houses. My day, like the 41 other coach passengers, had only just begun.

4.30am – After some rather brief introductions with Galloway bus drivers Nigel and Bennie, as well as coach steward James Hacker, I clamber into my seat not entirely sure what day it is. This is Town fans’ earliest start of the season by quite some way, but that didn’t stop this brave coach load who are the ‘true Blues’.

4.50am – Following pick-ups at Stowmarket, Bury, and Newmarket, the coach is unsurprisingly very quiet with little conversation as ‘power hour’ snoozes flow throughout. A breakfast stop is much-needed...

7.30am – An hour-long breakfast call beckons at Blyth (near Doncaster) services, which I’m told, by coach driver Nigel, is an ‘essential’ on these trips. Fully-fuelled and back on the coach with just 93 of the 252 miles to complete, the pre-match chit-chat starts among supporters as well as the ruffling pages of newspapers and magazines.

10.15am – The excitement builds as we draw closer, and by 10.15, two hours before kick-off, we arrive at the Riverside – a total driving time of four hours and 45 minutes. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, I can’t just watch at home,” says Jake Phillips, who had to work until 1.30am that morning, getting just one hour sleep. “Win, lose, or draw, we always have a good day,” claims another fan.

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11.30am – As the coach load filters into the stadium where other fans – including Liz Edwards, chairman of the Ipswich Town Supporters’ Club, British/Belizean Heptathlete Katy Sealy, and a 27-man stag do – have travelled via car and train, I talk, with more ‘essentials’ clutched in my hands (a pie, a pint, and a programme) to coach steward James Hacker, who also works for Ipswich Town ticket office.

“It’s the social aspect we all love the most,” says Hacker, who has visited 91 of the 92 current Football League grounds, 61 with Ipswich – and will complete the ‘Football League 92’ challenge on March 28 when Cambridge United travel to Hartlepool.

Ipswich Town fan and coach steward James Hacker, who has visited 91 of the 92 current Football Leagu

Ipswich Town fan and coach steward James Hacker, who has visited 91 of the 92 current Football League grounds - Credit: Archant

“At every game, you always build up memories – and not always related to the game.

“One year here (at the Riverside), I remember we bought a bunch of two for £10 Hawaiian T-shirts, and we got on Match of the Day.

“It’s so easy going on the coach. It’s relaxed, there’s no strain or pressure on you to drive and it’s a convenient and straightforward door-to-door service.”

12.15pm (kick off) – The stands are rocking as a sea of Town fans, among a plethora of inflatable sharks, planes, guitars, ponies, and cowboys to name a few, sing ‘Ole, ole, we’re the Tractor Boys, gonna make some noise’.

12.19pm – After less than four minutes of action, the Town fans’ voices are silenced as a short corner sees the unmarked Daniel Ayala head past Dean Gerken, who lays unconscious on the floor as a result. A poor goal to concede. “It’s so basic,” hollers one middle-aged supporter.

12.26pm – Seven minutes later, pandemonium strikes in the away end as Daryl Murphy stabs home following Jonathan Parr’s strike, with inflatable rubber rings and various animals thrust in the air llke confetti at a wedding.

12.45pm – Town hit the post twice much to the fans’ despairing jumps for joy, before yet another short corner undoes McCarthy’s men, with the middle-aged supporter even more wild-eyed and raging.

14.45pm – The second half doesn’t go to plan and Patrick Bamford adds two more Middlesbrough goals as the once bouncing inflatables flatten much like Town’s performance. Frustrations boil over as some fans leave early, and as we exit the stadium to board the coach, the debates of where it all went wrong and the ‘square pegs in round holes’ team selections begin to circle proceedings.

Town fans question where Mick McCarthy's men went wrong on Saturday

Town fans question where Mick McCarthy's men went wrong on Saturday

17.45pm – A quick pit-stop at Peterborough services coincides with some much-needed good news coming through the radio that the Championship results (3pm kick-offs) had largely gone Town’s way, and the Blues remain just one point short of the play-off places – a position they started the day in.

19.39pm – As the eyes continue to droop, and after dropping off a select few at Newmarket, Bury, and Stowmarket, the coach finally pulls up outside Portman Road again - more than 15 hours after setting off.

How do you do it, I ask Mr Hacker following more than 500 miles and 10 hours of travelling time after a dismal 4-1 defeat. “It’s your release,” he claims.

“Some fans take their frustration out for about 30 minutes, but then they just let it go.

“Going on the terraces is such a different vibe to watching it on the TV or listening to the radio, it’s all about making connections.

“It’s the raw emotions that we all love. Being a football fan is like marmite, you either get it or you don’t.”

Liz Palfrey, the commercial manager for Galloway, added: “Travelling up and down the country, the fans are up for early starts, late returns home and of course the unpredictability that is the Championship.

“Our partnership with ITFC goes back over many years and our drivers always enjoy taking the fans to the away games. They are a credit to the club and we are proud to help them show their support for the Super Blues.”

Indeed, as I leave, drivers Nigel and Bennie, the longest-serving Galloway driver of 26 years, add: “It’s great, we love taking what are the true Blues, not just football fans.”

20.43pm – I finally arrive through my own front door, more than 17 hours after embarking on the mammoth journey. I collapse on the sofa exhausted – I don’t know how these fans do it.