Mike Bacon: Milk crates and World Cup-winning heroes
- Credit: PA
Football writer MIKE BACON has been supporting Ipswich Town since his first-ever visit to Portman Road in 1972 when Stoke City were the visitors. They included England's World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks and hat-trick hero of that 1966 win, Geoff Hurst in their line-up that day. Enjoy a few memories...
It wasn't a very big milk crate.
In fact it was more a box than a crate. But it did the job. Then again, how was a seven-year-old supposed to see over the wall of the East Stand at Portman Road when he was only 4ft. 10ins?
I blame my mum. Not for my height, but for introducing me to Ipswich Town. Not that I'm complaining now, not that I complained then.
I liked football and was already playing for my primary school, St John's C of E, in Victory Road, in the town. I was okay at football as well, a half-pint version of Wes Burns, out on the wing, running as fast as my little legs would carry me.... minus the Alice band of course.
St John's famous purple jackets were a popular sight around that part of Ipswich then, and now, and it always made quite a picture as 80 or so of us used to make our way to school each morning, looking like a young group of Fiorentina fans heading to a game.
So, football it was for me. And Ipswich Town were set to become my team, even if I had delved briefly into believing I was a Liverpool fan when I was six! I had an all-red jersey and my mum had stitched the 'Liver Bird' badge onto it (you had to do it yourself in those days, there were no magic printing machines). I also had the no.7 cut out of cloth and stitched on, Kevin Keegan. Liverpool were going to be my team until...
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... That day I went to Portman Road to watch Stoke City.
It was September 1972 and we were in the ground by 1.30pm that Saturday afternoon. There was no marching in and sitting in your seat at 2.55pm as you do today. I was ushered straight to the front of the East Stand, grab a place!
My mum stood alongside me as I sat on my crate/box eating crisps and drinking pop, occasionally turning round to stand on my box to watch the players warming up, as I patiently waited for kick-off.
Woe betide anyone who tried to push me out of the way. 'We've been here hours', mum would say.
People walked around the pitch selling programmes, and Golden Goal tickets, while the big scoreboard in one corner of the ground showed the letters - A to Z, corresponding to other games that day.
At half-time, the scorelines of the other games in Division One would be put manually alongside the letters and you would look at the back of your programme to see which letters were attributed to which game that afternoon. Who needed Twitter?!!
It was the first time I'd ever experienced Ipswich Town live. Little did I know how the future was set to pan out as UEFA and FA Cup finals, league promotions, relegations and so much more became part of my life following the Blues.
I'm not going to pretend I remember every spit and cough of my first game at a ground that I was set to go and spend hours and hours at over the many decades ahead. The highs, the lows, the tears, the joy.
But it was Stoke City who were the first opponents I ever saw Town play against. And it was Gordon Banks, the England goalkeeper who had won the World Cup just six years previous, in goal for the Potters. Geoff Hurst, the hat-trick hero of that famous '66 World Cup win was also in the Stoke line-up. Stoke were the current League Cup holders.
However, little did I, or anyone know that September afternoon, that just a few weeks after playing in goal for Stoke at Portman Road, in a game Town won 2-0, with two goals from striker Rod Belfitt, who had joined Town from Leeds, Banks would be involved in a car crash that damaged one of his eyes. He had to retire from the professional game the following summer because of his damaged vision.
Hurst played up front that day and the records show he was apparently sent off (for dissent) for the first time in his career. My first game, Hurst's first-ever red!
I won't pretend I remember the red card and I don't remember much about seeing Hurst, but I was awe-struck with Banks. I couldn't keep my eyes off him. For a kid like me, to watch the England 'keeper move, dive and kick the ball was a memory I took away with me.
Away from the pitch, the crowd (there were 18,000 there that day) was as large a crowd as I had ever experienced. I loved it.
It was the start of a great period in Ipswich Town's history, as the Blues finished fourth that season, qualified for the UEFA Cup and Bobby Robson was already starting to build big for the future.
It was also the start of my long road of support for the Blues that continues to this very day.
In the weeks ahead, join me for some more Town memories from the 1970s to the present day.