It is the question I’m most frequently asked at MiB events behind only, “Do Rog and Davo really drink the Guinness on the Pod?” The answer to that one is simple. Yes. Always. And then some (responsibly). Why I, an American, support a perpetually-in-the-Championship (this season makes 15 straight, guitar screech!) team from a relatively obscure part of Britain is slightly more complex.
My dad is a retired U.S. Air Force Fighter Pilot. As such, I spent childhood parachuting into “out there” locales around the globe where the military decided it needed a runway. When I was 10, the Air Force sent my family to RAF Woodbridge-Bentwaters, a WWII leftover from the Eighth Air Force’s 1942 “friendly invasion” of East Anglia (The bases had to be as close as possible to Germany, so that their planes - P-47s and P-51s - had enough fuel to make into enemy territory and back. True story.). East Anglia is the tumescent bit of Britain that looks like a beer belly hanging over the belt that is the River Thames, jutting out into the North Sea. It’s bucolic at best, backwoods at worst. Its residents are quiet, quaint, mostly friendly farmers and fishers.
I landed in the UK in February 1992, an American kid who worshipped at the altar of the NBA, MLB and NFL. I associated soccer only with halftime orange slices and juice boxes. But this was a pre-Internet and satellite television epoch. When we arrived in the village of Martlesham Heath, just outside Ipswich, we had four televisions channels, none of which was NFL Red Zone. As the weeks passed, I grew so desperate for a sports fix, I started listening to soccer on the radio. Initially, I tolerated it as a bad placebo for the Jordan-era NBA I was missing at home.
But as I started to make friends at the British school I attended, where soccer was the only option at recess, I realized something special was happening. According to my buddies, the local team I’d been listening to on the radio, Ipswich Town Football Club, was on the precipice of winning what was then “The Second Division,” and earning the right to compete in the Premier League’s inaugural season, set to begin the following summer. The excitement was palpable. At school. In the newsagent’s. On the street. Something amazing was happening in this small farm town and I’d arrived just in time to experience it.
Ensconced in that feeling, I threw myself into all things Tractor Boys, even convincing my dad to take me to my first game at the hallowed Portman Road. My memory of the day’s minutiae (who they played, the score, etc.) is clouded by the sheer sense of wonder and electric current I felt at witnessing this in person. The mud. The baying fans. The way when a ball was kicked out of bounds, you didn’t get to keep it like a foul ball. You had to throw it back!
In May 1992, Ipswich won the Second Division, edging out Middlesbrough by four points. (Sorry, Robbie Mustoe). As a pre-teen, in the throes of that very special slice of life before girls (or boys) and cider enter the fold, when nothing is as important as your team winning, I experienced the absolute purest form of the drug called football: promotion. I knew my life would never be the same. This was my club for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health.
My family lived in the UK for three more years, during which I made countless more trips to Portman Road as well as away sojourns to White Hart Lane, Filbert Street (The King Power 1.0), and Highfield Road. It was during these subsequent seasons, I found out being a football supporter wasn’t all Jason Dozzell wonder strikes and open top bus tours down Ipswich High Street.
My final season living in the UK, Ipswich traveled to Old Trafford to take on Andy Cole-led Manchester United. In three short seasons, money had started to flood the Premier League and highlights were now readily available via Sky Sports (which I’d cajoled my parents into purchasing). Although, on this day, I wish they hadn’t.
March 4, 1995, Ipswich were battered 9 - 0 in what still holds the record for the worst drubbing in Premier League history, ushering in the football aphorism, “There are no easy games in the Premier League… except Ipswich at home.”