Carl Marston’s Travels with Town – no sign of Inspector Morse on the day I got my car broken into
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 124 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he recalls a fateful trip to Oxford’s old Manor Ground
Following Ipswich Town, up and down the country and on-and-off, over the years, has certainly presented its dangers.
And I’m not just referring to the disaster that can unfold before your very eyes on the pitch.
No, I can take an away defeat, however heavy, and move on to the next match, but where I do draw the line is having my car broken into, while I am in the press box!
To make matters worse, the occasion of this car theft, or rather theft within my car, took place on the home turf of Inspector Morse, and his side-kick sergeant Lewis, who later became an inspector himself.
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I am, of course, referring to Oxford United, the setting of the popular detective drama TV series of the late 1980s, 90s and beyond, penned by author Colin Dexter.
Now Inspector Morse (lead part played by John Thaw) would have been well entrenched in his job by the time I rolled into Oxford, in the autumn of 1996, reporting on the fortunes of Town under George Burley.
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But there was no sign of Morse, or Lewis for that matter, on that fateful Saturday afternoon.
It was a bad day for Town on the pitch, and an awful day for me off it.
In fact, I will always associate the Manor Ground, the former home of the O’s, with the front passenger window of my car.
Slightly unusual, I know, and it was no fault of hosts Oxford United, or their home of 76 years, but on this my second trip to this ground I ended up driving home in the freezing cold, with no passenger window.
It had been smashed during a Saturday afternoon theft of my car-radio, while I was reporting on Town’s dismal 3-1 defeat inside the Manor Ground.
Harsh, perhaps, but the episode has rather tainted my memories of this by-then dilapidated stadium.
Oxford’s home was in a sorry state, during the 1990s, full of antiquated terracing and aging stands, surrounded by residential streets which made modernization an impossibility. It was certainly no oil painting, no picture postcard.
The press box was in the Beech Road Stand, the main seating area of the ground which had at least been spruced up in 1975 with the unveiling of new dressing rooms, board room, a players’ tunnel and the aforementioned press box.
London Road terrace housed the home fans under a large iron roof, while Cuckoo Lane End had a distinctive angled shape to it, much narrower at one end than the other, and open to the elements for the unfortunate away supporters.
The pitch was also renowned for its appreciable slope towards the London Road End, which encouraged the home side to kick downhill in the second half towards their own fans.
But now back to the matter in hand.
According to the note left on my car windscreen, by a friendly neighbour, my car had been broken into (down a leafy, attractive residential street) at around 4pm, which would have been during the half-time interval of the Nationwide Division One clash on November 2, 1996. George Burley’s Ipswich side were already trailing 3-1 at this point. No more goals were added after the moment my car radio was whisked away by a couple of young ‘entrepreneurs.’ Naturally, they never were caught.
All in all, it was not a great afternoon.
On the pitch, Town defended ‘like schoolboys,’ at least according to my match report. They were three-down inside 44 minutes, the trend set early on by Tony Mowbray’s own goal from Joey Beauchamp’s free-kick. Poor Mowbray was suffering from the flu and so was substituted at half-time. Ex-Nottingham Forest striker Nigel Jemson and defensive lynchpin Matt Elliott both scored before half-time, with Adam Tanner netting Town’s consolation. It was a comfortable afternoon for Denis Smith’s side.
Off the pitch, my colleague Dave Allard, the life-and-soul of many-a-press-box, was uncharacteristically ruffled by a stubborn steward who appeared determined to make the ritual gathering of post-match quotes as difficult as possible, while we all loitered beside the players’ tunnel after the final whistle. It is never very easy speaking to players who have just had an ear-bashing from the manager in the dressing room, after a comprehensive defeat, and a ‘rules-are-rules’ steward can make the exercise even more unpleasant.
In fact, it was not to be Dave’s finest evening. True, he did resist the temptation to clout the steward, while picking up the odd quote, but worse was to follow. On returning to the car, and inspecting my smashed front passenger window, he was resigned to sitting on the back seat all the way home, shivering, teeth chattering, mumbling about how he’d like to get his hands on a certain over-officious steward. Even the many colourful fireworks displays which lined our route along the M25 and A12, just three days before Guy Fawkes Night, failed to lift Dave’s spirits.
It really was icy cold, in the back seat of my damaged VW Polo, an effective form of torture.. Still, under such circumstances it is usually best to turn on the car radio and listen to some tunes, to take your mind off the cold .....
(November 2, 1996: Oxford United 3 Ipswich Town 1)
Oxford: Whitehead, Robinson, Ford, Smith, Elliott, Purse, Angel (sub Massey, 62), Gray, Aldridge (sub Rush, 77), Jemson (sub Moody, 81), Beauchamp.
Ipswich: Wright, Stockwell, Taricco, Mowbray (sub Milton, 46), Sedgley, Williams, Tanner, Uhlenbeek (sub Naylor, 68), Creaney, Scowcroft, Mason. Unused subs: Davison.