From the stands: A toxic return to Portman Road for Ipswich Town fans

Fans returned to Portman Road this afternoon

2,000 Ipswich Town fans returned to Portman Road - Credit: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town fan and journalist Oliver Sullivan was among the 2,000 supporters who returned to Portman Road yesterday. He shares his thoughts on the day...

I, like most fans, felt incredibly lucky to have been inside Portman Road for yesterday’s match. But I think most of us left wishing we had stayed at home.

It’s hard to explain how it felt walking down Portman Road knowing I was about to see my first bit of live football in more than nine months. Despite having a nagging voice in my head reminding me of our poor form, especially against “promotion rivals” – I still felt positive. I was ready to see us win and lose my voice celebrating a goal or two.

Ollie Sullivan at Portman Road

Ipswich Town fan and news reporter Oliver Sullivan did not have the happiest of returns to Portman Road - Credit: Neil Didsbury

After getting past the surreal feeling of walking past a coronavirus testing site, putting my mask on and  having my temperature scanned – I was ready. It had been a long nine months and all I wanted was to see that hallowed turf again.

To walk up those stairs again and see the Portman Road pitch in all its glory – it was an indescribable feeling. It felt as if I was a child seeing it for the first time. There may not have been many of us, but the noise soon picked up – the chants we have been starved of for months began echoing around me. I was back – football was back. And boy did it feel good.

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To see the faces of the players as they ran out of the tunnel to a rapturous applause, you’d think all the problems on and off the pitch at Town had gone completely. The cold chill of a foggy December afternoon replaced with the warmth of excitement and anticipation.

Unfortunately that feeling didn’t last that long.

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There wasn’t much to shout about on the pitch – but when Kayden Jackson went one-on-one with the ‘keeper, I felt my blood rush in a way a football fan hasn’t known for what feels like an eternity. I didn’t really get that feeling again.

Ipswich Town captain Luke Chambers heads clear against Portsmouth

Ipswich Town captain Luke Chambers heads clear against Portsmouth - Credit: Steve Waller

The majority of things I heard around me were negative, there was the odd cheer of encouragement – but when there is little to praise on the pitch, what could you expect?

I still had that belief in me after we conceded the first goal though – part of me genuinely believed we were going to turn it round. But you knew exactly where it was heading after we conceded the second goal.

And in honesty, I can’t remember the last time I heard that many boos at a half-time whistle. Realistically though, that was only the beginning of what soon became an increasingly toxic atmosphere.

Not long into the second-half Luke Chambers – who was receiving quite a bit of flak from a section of supporters – decided to give some back.

I agree he wasn’t having the best game, but to say the person on the pitch who undoubtedly loves this club the most didn’t care, seemed a bit harsh.

But nevertheless, if there is a moment that will stick in my mind after the game, it’s seeing a club captain shouting back at his own fans.

The only things we had from there to get our blood rushing were Portsmouth chances. Twice they hit the crossbar – and they missed an absolute sitter of a header. I can’t believe it didn’t end 0-5.

Some things during the 90 did get fans blood boiling however – most notably Paul Lambert’s decision to substitute Kayden Jackson for Aaron Drinan instead of changing formation to a 4-4-2. The forward hadn’t necessarily had a bad game, but you couldn’t hear a single bit of applause for him over the deafening boos across the Sir Alf.

Paul Lambert appeals to the referee during Ipswich Town's loss to Portsmouth

Ipswich Town manager Paul Lambert came under fire from the stands - Credit: Steve Waller

Perhaps fans wouldn’t have reacted so badly had it looked like we wanted to win. I don’t doubt the players wanted to mark the return of fans by bagging the three points, but the chances were few and far between – and the mistakes made any real positive move fade into obscurity. Pedestrian is the word.

From where I was sat, I couldn’t see Lambert applaud the fans – I could be wrong, but I didn’t see him. There were a few bouts of applause from some fans, but in honesty it was the booing that most could hear. The boos were quieter than at half-time mind, but only because the disaffected had left early.

It is such a shame it wasn’t the return to Portman Road I had hoped for – I take no joy from writing about the doom and gloom. But with the football Town are playing right now, it just feels like we aren't going anywhere. That we're destined for another mid-table finish.

What I can praise though was the organisation of the club. Fine, I hadn't actually received my ticket in the post before I left for the ground – it actually came through the letterbox after 2.30pm – but the stewards had done a fantastic job at keeping us all safe and ensuring the rules were followed. At the end of the day, with coronavirus continuing to affect our communities, we are beyond lucky to be able to enjoy live football. It certainly feels like a privilege rather than a right.

I hope Tuesday's match against Burton will be a different experience for the next 2,000 fans to pass through the turnstiles. No matter what the result may have been this time around, you can't beat the highs of live football – and I hope everyone who gets the chance to enjoy it gets the experience they deserve.

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