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Amazing Away Days
By: Ian Townsend
"MY Uncle Ray's running a bus to Ipswich. Are you coming?". Those few seemingly innocuous words set in motion a series of events which if nothing else made me realise that I wasn't born with the middle name "lucky".
Ipswich F.A.Cup Round 4 January 1983. Picture the scene...It's January 1983. Scunthorpe have been soundly thrashed in Round 3 of the FA Cup. The reward - a mouth watering trip to Ipswich in Round 4. Ahh Ipswich with Paul Mariner, John Wark, Terry Butcher et al. Ipswich FA Cup winners only 5 years previously were playing...Grimsby Town with the magnificent Trevor Whymark in the team, an ex-Ipswich player. It was the stuff dreams were made of. Who wouldn't want to be there to witness the inevitable Town 1-0 win with the mighty Trev getting the winner? Of course I was going!!
The day began quietly enough. It was fairly overcast and as I remember VERY cold. (This is an important point dear reader so please remember it). We boarded the bus and set off down the A16, passing through Boston and leaving Lincolnshire behind. We were well into darkest Norfolk when disaster struck. A stone flew up off the road and shattered the near side windscreen. Now there will be those amongst you who might think that "at least it wasn't the driver's side". That I can assure you was scant consolation if you were on the near side. The decision was taken to continue. To be fair it was almost unanimous (apart from the person sat in the front row of the near side who gazed into the abyss with more than a little trepidation). Little did we know! The bus set off and at a steady 50 miles per hour. After about half a mile the realisation dawned that I had never been so cold in my entire life. I'd always looked at films of trawlermen battling against Icelandic gales with a little "Thank God it's not me". Now I was getting my turn. It was January, it was cold and the wind was howling down the length of the nearside of the bus at the pre determined 50 miles per hour. We were about 50 miles from Ipswich so this was likely to last for one hour.
It is fair to say that not one person on that side of the bus had the physical strength to put their head above seat level. It must have fair unsettled the inhabitants of sleepy East Anglian villages to see such a spectacle.
You may be wondering how the driver managed. Well he had a windscreen, but even in our parlous situation we marvelled at his nerve and strength. That is until we reached the outskirts of Ipswich. It must have affected him more than any of us realised because at the first set of lights he didn't notice their red colour and piled into the back of an expensive looking sporty car driven by a young lady.
Cue total mayhem. Said lady driver was hysterical (perhaps unsurprisingly), passers by rushed to help and the Police were called.
The boys in blue duly arrived and by some sort of miracle managed not to laugh at the sight which met them. Twenty odd football fans done up like Antarctic explorers going to a conference, a semi-wrecked sports car with a hysterical driver and a bus with a key window missing.
By now the clock was nicely ticking and after ensuring an ambulance wasn't needed (they never asked about frostbite on the bus!) we were offered a Police Escort to the ground. We hurtled (?) towards Portman Road but even with the escort we just missed kick-off. There was a mad scramble off the bus and everyone that still had all their fingers and toes ran towards the only turnstile which appeared to be open. We paid and ran up the stairs desperate to see the game. Our chants of "Mariners!" filled the air..keen for our fellow Town fans to know their numbers were on the point of being considerably swelled.
We were met by total silence. Yes you've guessed it, we were in with the Ipswich faithful. Fortunately the on duty Police reacted quicker than our "hosts" and we were very quickly bundled out and into the enclosure holding the Town fans which was actually just to the right of where we were.
Relieved we were there (and safe!!) we turned our attention to the match....just in time to see the aforementioned Mr Whymark carried off with a match ending injury. The cruelty of it!! Even the Ipswich fans who apparently gave him a huge round of applause before the game seemed gutted for the lad.
The rest of the game passed in a blur. We lost 2-0. Without our talisman the game was beyond us and it was a disgruntled group who trudged back to our bus, newly restored to full insulation.
After that the journey home was relatively without incident. However the almighty did have one final trick up his sleeve. In those halcyon days it wasn't yet illegal to drink alcohol on the bus. A lot of the passengers had taken on supplies of booze with the excuse that it was needed to keep warm. HOWEVER we all know what effect that can have particularly on cold January nights. The driver (by now clearly fed up with the whole day) tried to appease the repeated demands for the toilet and warming food to soak up the excesses by promising a stop at Boston. Unfortunately the Lincolnshire Police had other ideas, strangely having no desire to see their town taken over by several coachloads of football fans on a SATURDAY night and we were duly escorted round the town and away. By now several bladders were reaching critical mass and when we were finally allowed to stop the general opinion was that it was a miracle that several thousand acres of prime fenland were not flooded as a result of the dyke we used as a toilet, already swollen with winter rains overflowing.
Eventually we arrived home. My mate without a hint of irony asked if anyone was up for the next away match at Blackburn the following Saturday. I think he's still trying to find his teeth.
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