Ipswich Town fans descend on Coventry to see Tommy Smith make Olympic history

IPSWICH Town fan Martin Talbot knew he had to be inside the Coventry of City Stadium to watch Tommy Smith make history – as the first ever player on the Blues’ books to appear in the Olympic Games. Here are his reflections.

For Ipswich Town fans, there have been few moments of history to savour in recent years. Few positive moments, that is.

So, for about 50 or so Town supporters, Thursday night’s Olympic fixture at the City Of Coventry stadium offered a night to remember.

When the New Zealand Olympic men’s football team lined up against Belarus, Tommy Smith opened a brand new page in the ITFC history books by becoming the club’s first player to feature in the Olympic Games.

A few Town players have Olympic links – apparently Claus Thomsen turned out for Denmark in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics while Vlado Bozinovski played for Australia in Seoul 1988 (no, I don’t remember him either).

But no player has become an Olympian while being on Town’s books, let alone a homegrown youngster like Tommy.

Over the past couple of months, a handful of Town fans started to discuss over Twitter the idea of travelling to Tommy’s first Olympic match to watch this piece of history.

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For those of us arriving in the centre of the Coventry on Thursday, it was hard to imagine how this place had been selected as an Olympic host city.

But a city centre pub serving Suffolk brews from Adnams (the Town Wall Tavern, if ever you are in the area) took the edge of that disappointment. Temperatures approaching 30 degrees in shade didn’t harm morale either.

The stadium concourse was packed well ahead of kick off – and littered with fans in Ipswich Town shirts from various recent seasons. Aside from NZ and Belarus, easily the most common club shirts seemed to be those of a Town persuasion.

Replica shirts were one of the items which WERE allowed into the ground (amid the Olympic insistence that guerilla marketing activity wouldn’t undermine the official Olympic brand partners).

Rumours had abounded before the match that Pepsi wouldn’t be allowed in the ground (Coca Cola is the official fizzy drink sponsor) and even that the words “Armitage Shanks” had been taped over on the urinals.

The first was true, the second definitely not. But Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena had been renamed for the event - now labelled the City Of Coventry Stadium, with pretty much any sign of the word “Ricoh” airbrushed from the ground.

In the event, the match itself was a scrappy affair with the air of a pre-season friendly. Our nerves were set jangling for the start, when the fussy referee threw out a yellow card at a perfectly fine Tommy Smith tackle (from our, admittedly, biased viewpoint).

“Is that your Tommy Smith? He won’t last very long like that,” laughed the Coventry local in front of us.

As it happened, Tommy quickly settled nicely, on the left side of a fluid back four, with Ryan Nelson on the right of centre and Ian Hogg (a 22-year-old part-timer from Auckland, apparently) at left back. He looks good, PJ, check him out.

A decent atmosphere added to the spectacle, around 14,000 fans (including vast numbers of children, on a summer holiday treat) getting into the spirit in the 32,000 stadium.

New Zealand looked the better team throughout but lost to a Dmitry Baga goal when New Zealand keeper Michael O’Keeffe came and failed to make contact with a cross.

At the final whistle, shirts were swapped and Tommy jumped over the barriers to the front of the crowd – to see his mum and dad.

Having driven up from Suffolk to proudly watch their son make history, they had got stuck in traffic on the A14 and arrived in the ground just as the 3 minutes injury time was announced.

Obviously disappointed (but sporting fine, matching white and black NZ replica shirts) they had missed all but the last moments of his steps into the history books. But that won’t affect their acute sense of pride at seeing, albeit for a brief few minutes, their son make history.

It is a sense of pride which all Town fans should feel of our Ipswich Town Olympian.