Remaining true to my fictional new year’s resolution to ‘get out more’, I return for the second dull Tuesday night in a row to the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium for a second helping of Colchester United in the competition properly known at Football League Division Four.
Two pints of Adnams Old Ale in The Bricklayers Arms and a speeding, top-deck, bus ride that’s worth £2.50 of anyone’s money are the prelude to the shock of arriving at the stadium. There’s a queue at the turnstiles because tonight’s the night the U’s play Wycombe Wanderers, their meanest, nastiest foe who once, long ago in 1991 pipped the U’s to promotion by scoring more goals. The rotters. Like last week a steward asks if he can look in my bag, of course he can, but I tell him he probably won’t see much because its a navy blue bag and it’s awfully dark out here. He peers down perfunctorily and fondles the bottom of the bag just a little before turning away, perhaps a tad embarrassed.
Into the ground and I immediately meet my next door neighbour, who explains that she is here to see her son take penalties at half time with the Coggeshall Under 15’s team; I’ll look out for that I tell her. I meet her husband in the toilet who’s here for the same reason, although he’s in the toilet to have a piddle, like me.
After the usual modern age twee ‘sporting’ nonesense of handshakes and standing in a line, the game kicks off. The teams are made up of the usual collection of young men with serious yet silly haircuts and Colchester once again field ex Ipswich prodigy Owen Garvan – Hurrah! Wycombe meanwhile have a star in their midst , a star the size of a planet, Adebayo Akinfenwa who apparently weighs 16 stone. Mr Akinfenwa’s football career spans a century, albeit the 21st one and he is a Football League legend who has also won medals in the Premier League, the Welsh Premier League; with Barry Town; he is enormous, absolutely vast. It might be an exaggeration to say he is worth the entrance money alone, but you get a lot for your money with Ade. He doesn’t run so much as waddle about the pitch, but he knows where to be and when. He’s always in the right place at the right time, but when you’re as big as him it’s difficult not to be. Ade is apparently known as ‘The Beast,’ but he seemed like a very lovely man indeed, playing as he did with a smile on his face despite being called a ‘fat bastard’ by those Col U wags behind the goal. Far from being a beast Ade is the sort of bloke you’d happily invite round for afternoon tea and a plate of fancies with your mum. You wouldn’t want to invite a ‘beast’ round for that would you, they might leave something nasty in your downstairs toilet, and as Kevin Keegan might say, no ones a fan of that.
Inspired by Ade, as anyone would be, the Wycombe fans are in good voice and have a drum, which they bang, or one of them does. Sensibly, those Wycombe fans who want to stand up do so at the back of the stand where they can see over the heads of those who prefer to sit. It looks a very neat and tidy arrangement, they’re not daft in Buckinghamshire. Wycombe start well and whilst the Col U fans also have a drum they have no rhythm yet and their unco-ordinated shouts produce a hollow echo off the tin roof and walls.
Colchester send a shot past the post and the U’s fans offer a double salvo of “Fuck Off Wycombe!” but it somehow doesn’t quite sound quite right, saying that to an innocuous town in the home counties; you wouldn’t say that to Gerrards Cross now would you, so why Wycombe. Things are getting nasty, well kind of, and Wycombe’s Will de Havilland is booked for not controlling his elbow well enough in the vicinity of someone else’s face. I imagine the referee asking his name and saying “Really? de Havilland? What like her in Gone With The Wind?”
Moments later the U’s are in front and no one looks more surprised than the goalscorer George Elokobi whose spectacular effort from 2o odd yards arcs delightfully into the top corner; it might have been a cross originally though, there’s no knowing from where I’m sat. The U’s fans rise as one and a man in a beanie hat in front of me stands purposefully as if to address the players, and slowly stabs both his temples with his forefingers. Odd.
The U’s are in full flow and Brindley sends the ball low across the face of goal, like you do. Then at the other end Akinfenwa literally squashes Brindley, who has to be shaken back into shape by the physio. Mascot Eddie the Eagle then helps referee Mr Kettle to ensure the ball is placed accurately in the little ‘D’ for a corner kick. The scoreboard fleetingly advises us to kit ourselves out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at cufc retail, and by the look of a few people around me they have done just that. Unimpressed, Olivia de Havilland shoves a Col U player and a bit later does it again, she is substituted at half-time.
The game is what you might call ‘attritional’. A Wycombe player with a a hair cut which is part Marge Simpson part skinhead gets in to a good position, but then sends his cross far over everyone’s head, before scratching his own as if unable to fully comprehend what just happened. Then U’s Lapslie has a free-kick awarded against him. “What about the foul earlier?” cries an angry, plaintiff voice. Indeed , what about it. Eh, Mr Kettle? ” Oh sorry, you’re absolutely right, my mistake”. But no, Mr Kettle didn’t say a word to his accuser; how cool is that?
At number 12 Wycombe have a player rejoicing under the name of Paris Cowan-Hall. Paris, now there’s an exotic name for a footballer, but his double-barrelled surname perhaps suggests Patrician parents who benefitted from a classical education. In Greek legend Paris was a bit like a stereotypical Premier League footballer; he was ‘one for the ladies’ having a fling with a nymph called Oenone before getting Aphrodite, Hera and Athena to get their kit off and then eloping with Helen who was already married to Menelaus king of Sparta; all of which resulted in the Trojan Wars and that big horse and everything. Just thought you’d like to know in case they ask a question on University Challenge .
On the cusp of half time and the U’s keeper tries to look busy as he taps the soles of his boots on the goal posts and swigs from a bottle, even though he is only seconds away from a nice cup of half-time tea. Sadly I am more than seconds from my half-time tea and spend so long in the not very long queue that I only return to the stand in time to see the Coggeshall Under 15’s leave the field, having presumeably scored all their penalties against the hapless Eddie the Eagle. I’ll lie to the neighbours.
There’s just time to enjoy Pulp’s Mis-shapes over the tannoy before the action recommences. An early boot into touch sees a wonderfully disinterested looking ballboy in a bobble hat take an age to return the ball to a Wycombe player who seems to curb his impatience because the lad is so very small and looks so much like he’d rather be elsewhere. I like to think that his dad was right chuffed to get young Tommy in as a ball-boy, but actually Tommy is day-dreaming about trying on his sister’s dresses or doing ballet.
Moving on and U’s earn an obvious corner . “Corner!” shouts a reedy voice behind me as if challenging Mr Kettle not to give it. Again Mr Kettle stays calm. The game rolls on and Colchester have the ascendency, doing most of the attacking and doing it with a fair lick of pace. This is in contrast to Wycombe who seem restricted to move at the same pace as big Ade, after all, they wouldn’t want to leave him behind. He nevertheless wins quite a few headers and defies physics for one final moment in injury time and has one cleared off the goal line. The Wycombe fans have been silenced largely, although with 1o minutes to go they had raised a few “Come on Wycombe” chants to save face.
Responding to a prompt from the scoreboard the U’s fans get behind the U’s once more to carry their team over the winning line on a wave of vocal encouragement. A fine win for the U’s and a most enjoyable evening for which credit must also go to the vanquished team and in particular Ade Akinfenwa, what a great bloke and worth a hundred Premier League players; by weight alone.