I like meeting new people; I really do. In fact, people are in my personal Top 3 list of favourite species to meet. However, when in a social situation with those I barely know, there are a number of questions I dread being asked:
What did you study at university? (I studied maths. Any follow-up questions? Thought not.)
What sort of music do you like? (Lots of different types. Anyone who likes only one type of music is clearly a cretin.)
What are your hobbies? (I like writing. My favourite thing to do is sit in a room by myself and write. Happy now?)
However, there’s one question that the very prospect of it being asked makes me tremble with fear and makes me sure I’m about to become to conversation building what Rentokil is to mice and rats. That question is this – what football team do you support?
For me, there’s no way to answer that without nixing the chatter, without stopping the flow of talking like some kind of anti-fun dam. When I finally do respond, I stare at my shoes, wring my hands and mumble the words “Ipswich Town” before gazing up to see my compatriots looking anywhere but at me, as if I’ve just said, “Does anyone else find their cousin really hot?” or “I don’t really believe in washing clothes”. Finally, after what seems like eons of people pleadingly staring at each other in the hope there’s a supplementary comment that can be made to such an admission, I’ll offer up a quick, “Well, someone’s got to, eh?” before everyone moves on with their lives and we move on to a much more comfortable and relaxing topic of conversation, like Sharia Law.
Sometimes, if there’s somebody over the age of about 45 in the party, I’ll get a conciliatory, “You were a good team in the late 70s and early 80s!” It’s sweet of people to remember – back in those days, Ipswich were the model of a well-run, community-focused club. Under the stewardship of Bobby Robson, they made several forays into Europe, winning the UEFA Cup in 1981, as well as recording an FA Cup triumph in 1978. However, Ipswich ended an 18-year association with top flight football in 1986, three months before I was born. In my lifetime, save for an extraordinary purple patch at the start of this century (play-off champions, top five in the Premier League, two successive seasons in the UEFA Cup), it’s been extraordinarily slim pickings.
(Here's a picture of Luke Hyam in lieu of other Ipswich Town articles. Uh, sorry - Ed)
This isn’t a gripe with the club’s lack of success – no team has a divine right to win trophies – it’s just the sheer tedium of it all. Ipswich Town are currently the Championship’s longest-serving team having been in the league since relegation in 2002. As if over a decade in the same division wasn’t bad enough, check out Ipswich’s final league position over the past four seasons (most recent first): 14th, 15th, 13th, 15th. That’s right, despite a multi-millionaire investor (the notoriously publicity-shy Marcus Evans), a couple of managerial changes and an entirely new squad in that time, Ipswich have all but stayed exactly where they are over the course of this decade.
Football isn’t all about league positions though, I hear you say, and at least there’s been no relegation to worry about. That is true (although the club did go into administration in 2002), but it seems a long time since there felt like anything in particular riding on an individual match. With such a dull existence as a supporter, you’d think the only thing to get excited about would be that most clichéd of football concepts – local bragging rights.
Ipswich’s local rivals are Norwich City, and I use the word “local” quite wrongly here. Sure, there’s animosity and resentment between the two sets of fans, and there’s added spice to any Old Farm derbies that transpire, but there are 45 miles between the two grounds, or 70 minutes by road because, of course, there are no motorways in East Anglia. The last time the two were in the same league (The Championship, naturally) was in 2010-11, where Norwich took six points from Ipswich, with a 9-2 aggregate scoreline. The defeat in November of that season was particularly galling as a number of the Norwich players were growing moustaches for Movember, giving the impression that Ipswich were getting thoroughly trounced by a team made of German porn stars and Williamsburg hipsters.
So, they’re a team whose trajectory is choreographed by the same people who invented indifference and there’s not even a decent local rivalry to get excited about (sorry to Colchester United fans, both of you). But like all supporters, I’m stuck with the team I follow and conveniently overlook the fact that it’s a mere quirk of geography that made me choose them over any other outfit.
Perhaps there’s some hope on the horizon though. At the time of writing, Ipswich are currently sitting in a play-off position. My prediction is they’ll stay in and around the promotion-chasing pack long enough that the fans dare to dream before the season begins to tail off around Easter, cementing Ipswich’s position as a sturdy mid-table team. That said, if they got promoted, I’m sure they’d get turned over on a weekly basis in a manner that would make Sam Allardyce’s West Ham team look efficient and dynamic. Given the alternatives, maybe supporting the most stolid and boring team in the world isn’t such a bad fate after all.