Oliver Sullivan: ‘History favours winners... Not those with two pints of milk in their trophy cabinet!’
PUBLISHED: 13:38 26 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:46 26 March 2020
Ipswich Town fan OLIVER SULLIVAN has taken his time getting used to supporting the Blues... But you try stopping him now!
I deliberately missed Ipswich Town’s glory days – and boy do I regret it.
You might think it weird for an Ipswich fan to say he hated football so much he refused to watch the Blues in the UEFA Cup, but here I am.
I don’t think you could have found a youngster that detested all things football as much as I did.
I just didn’t get it.
I looked like a scared cat frantically moving his feet as the ball came to him, and thought a trip to Portman Road would be scarier than being locked in the school cages with the year six kids.
I wasn’t very sporty, but I wasn’t very nerdy either. I guess you could say I was a bit of an inbetweener, flittering between social groups – everyone knew me, but not because I’d actually achieved anything – well other than a signed Cliff Richard tennis award. Yeah, you heard. Any of you reading this with a Blue Peter badge, pfft. Child’s play in comparison.
As I got older, I found the athletic side in me, I’ve got legs longer than a giraffe and am a real lanky lad – in Germany, they’d call me a leek, you get the picture.
The high school athletics track gave me the chance to show the footballers and the rugby players that they can’t be good at everything. A few gold, silver and bronze sports day medals in 100m, 200m and 200m relay later, I’ve got a beer belly and can’t run more than 40 yards.
By this point in my life, Town had failed to secure play-off glory under Royle and narrowly missed out under the helm of Magilton.
A club with a rich European pedigree seemed to be destined to remain stuck in the second-tier of English football, and in all honesty – I couldn’t have cared less.
I remember the first time playing FIFA on my mate Callum’s XBOX 360 back in 2010, it was only on an outdated copy of FIFA 07, but I started thinking, ‘y’know what, this football lark could be a laugh’.
And then in the second half I ran past all my defenders to score an own goal as I’d forgotten about switching sides. In five or six games, I didn’t score a single goal and went home with my tail between my legs.
So a week or two later, my family were shocked during a trip to Blockbusters (yup, I’m not THAT young – I even remember when Ant and Dec were presenters of SMTV Live on a Saturday morning) and I asked if I could have a second-hand copy of FIFA 09 for less than two quid.
You should have seen their faces!
My dad was a football fan growing up, but later only cared about rugby and snooker, my mum knows nothing about the beautiful game and my brother James, well, he had World of Warcraft.
He and I would later play that flippin’ game every night, nicking the telly from our parents when they wanted to watch Masterchef or Larkrise to Candleford.
I’m making them sound proper boring, aren’t I? Even though I do chuffing love a good episode of Masterchef these days. Anyway, we would play each other non-stop, normally just with random teams we’ve never heard of until my use of the offside trap would make him throw his controller at me and storm off in a strop, classy.
We’d later buy every instalment of the game for the next seven years or so, but for two of those years, one thing didn’t change – I didn’t watch football, and I certainly didn’t play it.
But that was until one fateful day in 2012, when my cousins, Matthew and Michael, from Swindon – who bizarrely are Town mad – came to watch a game at Portman Road. It was a freezing January night as the near-bottom of the table Blues faced promotion favourites West Ham, standing proudly at the top of the table.
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And what a night it was.
An unexpected result saw Town hit five past the league leaders, with Jack Collison pulling one back.
I remember the sheer excitement when Michael Chopra fired home in the third minute. I’d never celebrated a goal so didn’t really know what to do, but the 16-year-old me grabbed my dad and cousin and started frantically cheering as I flew off my seat. The feeling was electric, a buzz I had never felt before, a rush of pure adrenaline. That was it. I was hooked.
On the topic of Chopra, could you even begin to imagine him being your favourite player?
To me, not understanding the plethora of international talent to proudly wear our shirt, he was godlike. But then things inevitably turned sour and that godawful picture of him at Ipswich train station saying ‘This is Ipswich’ looked utterly embarrassing. And then they stuck Bluey’s head over the top of it, and miraculously it looked even worse than before. I digress.
My brother and I would later go to watch every game we could. I even remember having my first kiss with my girlfriend at the time, before moments later leaving her alone in town while I went to watch a diabolical display of Chris Hutching’s Ipswich lose 0-3 at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
Safe to say I made the wrong choice, looking back. But to be fair to myself, I said to my brother that Ross Barkley would become a class player after he scored two against us – call me Mystic Olly!
After an easily forgettable couple of years, it was time for the 2014/15 season. My first taste of a Town side who really looked the business, when I thought Mick McCarthy was the best thing since sliced bread and when Kevin Bru was a liquid-slick hustler. I miss that man and won’t hear a word about him not being good enough. Don’t care. The Mauritian Messi. The Parisian Pirlo. The Ipswich Iniesta.
I was there for the dramatic last-minute win at Charlton, when a then un-inspiring Noel Hunt proved his doubters wrong and in an un-named shirt stole the hearts of the 2,000 away fans – and when Luke Chambers let slip a naughty word in front of the cameras. Brilliant.
I was there at the pretty nothing game which looked certain to see us fall off the promotion wagon, when super-substitute Richard Chaplow slotted it home against Watford to send us screaming. I really did believe, and my love could never have been stronger.
Fine, it wasn’t meant to be.
McCarthy ended up tasting more like a mouldy sliced loaf than a pitta dipped in olive oil and balsamic. We still couldn’t beat those lot up the A140 and would eventually find ourselves in League One. But has that really changed anything? No, it hasn’t and it never will.
I support a club who no matter where I am in the world, people know, people respect – people admire.
A club who although from a relatively small town in the depths of unknown lands wrote their name in English folklore – in European folklore. A club who no matter where they stand, no matter who wears the shirt – will forever sport three stars.
The ever-annoying Budgies may hold the upper hand now but will never know the joy and the legends we fans are lucky to have shared and watched.
OK, I may not have seen those days of UEFA Cup glory, the days of George Burley or the wonder years of Sir Bobby – but history lasts forever and history favours the winners. Not the ones who have two pints of milk in their trophy cabinet.
By this time in his life, my dad had seen Town play Barcelona and Real Madrid – and here I am at the grand old age of 23 and I’ve seen Town play, well... Barnsley and Accrington Stanley.
Fine, so many of people my age got to watch Town at the San Siro, or maybe even took the mammoth journey over to Russia, but did they have a shiny Charizard Pokémon card?
No, they probably didn’t, and that’s probably the only defence I’m ever going to have.