Posted: 13.09.20 at 17:34 by Derek Davis
Well the English Football League season has finally returned for Ipswich Town, but never as any of us have ever seen it before and quite frankly I could have been covering game on the moon - there was no atmosphere.
I have been visiting Portman Road as a reporter off and on for 25 years and witnessed the good, bad and strange, but the Blues kick off against Wigan Athletic was against a backdrop of government restriction, which may, or may not change in October.
My last game with a big crowd was back in March as I covered Norwich City in the Premier League, and more recently I have had the pleasure of an FA Cup tie, completely with dramatic penalty shoot out for Brantham Athletic, a friendly at Felixstowe & Walton United, and some park football.
For me, midday kick offs on a Sunday, are still at odds with normality, but the usual rigmarole of parking, signing in and setting up was comfortably familiar - even without the usual pre-match refreshment. The club’s Covid-19 protocols was as thorough as it could be, with clear and precise instructions, which any government could learn from.
We were sent online instructions, which we had to sign along with strict accreditation rules from the EFL, and the process was thorough and in a strange way reassuring meaning only proper journalists were coming to games.
Although watching televised football at empty stadiums is no longer a novelty, reporting from a ‘proper’ game was a little surreal. With the team sheet emailed to the press, ‘Fos’ still read out the players names to the few cardboard cut-outs strategically placed in a couple of lower-tier areas.
From Andy the steward at the car park, to all the press guys, we knew what was what, for good or bad, and it certainly highlighted how difficult going back to full crowds would be - as much as the club and everyone else would love it.
There was no crowd noise in the ground, so the instructions barked out by Paul Lambert and his opposite number John Sheridan in the Wigan dug-out were clearly audible, as were the the players communications, which could never pass censorship.
The passion from the players was there, it was League One football and there was no disguising that. No matter the amount of sanitisation and as good as the result was for Town, against a clearly beleaguered club that seven years ago won the FA cup, then appeared in the Europa League before their downfall made Ipswich's years of doldrums look insignificant.
Ipswich fans will love the moment and ignore the facts of Wigan's woes. But they have been doing that for years, so let's not burst the bubble. They will relish returning to Portman Road if allowed in October and the positive from this experience was the precautions Town have taken, and the rule of six could work with the right amount of adherence from supporters.
In terms of football and a return to the Championship - I have yet to be convinced.
It was football Jim, but not as we know it.
You can read my match report in The Times tomorrow morning. Check out more pictures by scrolling right on the top image.