Ipswich Town 2 Sheffield Wednesday 2

An evening match at Portman Road and it’s not worth going home after work, so I stay a little later, but not that late and then take ‘tea’ in St Jude’s Tavern. My walk to St Jude’s takes me past Portman Road where the scene is being set for later in the evening. It’s half past five so darkness already shrouds the streets, but the bright white strip lights inside the Bobby Robson stand already illuminate it, and a silent expectation spills down in to Sir Alf Ramsey Way. Isn’t it daft that the Sir Bobby Robson stand is in Sir Alf Ramsey Way and the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand is at the other end of the ground? In Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Portman Road three burger vans are set-up; like the lights inside the stand they spill out a neon glow and with the absence of diners they possess a harsh, stark sadness, like paintings by Edward Hopper.

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A gaggle of stewards head for their evening’s work of standing about in hi-vis jackets and the local newspaper ‘goodie bags’ are being lined-up on the pavement.
I pass by quickly and have soon ordered a chicken a mushroom pie (although the barman said it was steak and kidney) and a pint of Cliff Quay Powder Monkey, a bitter, for a fiver. I sit and read for a short while as I eat and sup my beer before I am joined by a friend who buys me a pint of Cliff Quay Anchor (£3.40) which I prefer to the Powder Monkey. As usual the St Jude’s is being patronised by pre-match drinkers, but not packed out by them, which is good because it’s not a very big pub. My friend and I discuss the scandal that is Universal Credit, the Budget, living in France, my friend’s heart condition, and haircuts; I order another pint of Anchor and my friend, whose name is Mick, as in Mills, Hill, McCarthy and Jagger has a half.
Glasses drained and farewells said I find myself in Portman Road, it’s not very busy, but then the game is on the telly and Ipswich ‘supporters’ are quick to abandon their club when the going gets tough, even though prices are reduced to a very reasonable £15 all over the ground tonight; as a season ticket holder I feel a little cheated by that. Entry into the ground offers nothing of note tonight, but the stand is pitted with empty seats, it seems likely that many deserted the cheap seats tonight due to that special offer. There are plenty of supporters from Sheffield, well over a thousand and despite being from the city of the Arctic Monkeys, Pulp and The Human League they hit on Depeche Mode’s “ I just can’t get enough” as their anthem from the start; frankly I am disappointed.
The match kicks off and the ball is soon in the air and the game isn’t as beautiful as the publicity or Pele say; there’s a lot of pushing and shoving. There’s not too much to excite and therefore the Ipswich fans are quiet, whilst the more effusive people of South Yorkshire continue to show no regional loyalty moving seamlessly from Depeche Mode to Jeff Beck with a rendition of “Hi Ho, Sheffield Wednesday…” although without ever finishing the lyric; they must just like the fact that those four words scan so neatly. With the Ipswich supporters typically silent, it takes just fourteen minutes before the Wednesdayites appropriate a bit of opera to sing “Is this a library”, as all but the very smallest and quietest gatherings of away supporters do at Portman Road, and justifiably so.
Eventually, after twenty minutes or so, Ipswich have a couple of shots which inspire their supporters to launch into a few dull, atonal chants of “Blue Army”. Sheffield Wednesday dominate possession, as most teams do against Ipswich, but in the English second division that counts for nothing as few teams are capable of converting possession into goals. Ipswich are doing okay. Then it’s half time and I wander dispiritedly beneath the stand, worried as ever by the ageing demographic of Ipswich’s supporters. I toy with the idea of sitting somewhere else for the second half, but my enthusiasm has been sucked from me by the stiflingly silent attitude of the home crowd and I return to my own seat amongst the living dead to continue this passionless marriage with the club that once moved me.
The second half begins as the stomping “Singing The Blues” fades from the tannoy and the Sheffield Wednesday fans take up the tune with a gusto unknown in Ipswich, though for their own wicked purposes of encouraging their team. But within three minutes Ipswich score; Joe Garner tapping the ball simply and easily into the net at the far post after a corner is headed across goal. Now that Ipswich are winning, Ipswich supporters in The Bobby Robson Stand can be heard supporting their team and things are looking up; Ipswich are playing pretty well. It’s all a bit a shock therefore when fifteen minutes later Ipswich’s Jordan Spence mindlessly, needlessly and almost invisibly handles the ball to gift Sheffield Wednesday a goal from the penalty spot. Happily Martyn Waghorn restores Ipswich’s lead with a looping header about five minutes later and Ipswich continue to be the more effective team, even if they still don’t possess the ball as often as Sheffield.
The mood is uncharacteristically upbeat although of course you couldn’t say the stadium is reverberating to the sound of passionate support; “The noise, the passion, the sense of belonging” that Bobby Robson said defined a club remain elusive in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand . Portman Road will never rival St Etienne’s Stade Geoffrey Guichard as “The Cauldron” ; not so much Le chaudron as le cemetiere.
The final twenty minutes see substitutions borne of desperation from Sheffield and fear of losing from Ipswich. Sheffield resort to an enormous bearded Kosovan, Atdhe Nuhui, who is 1.96m tall. Ipswich resort to trying to keep the ball in the far corner of the pitch rather than continuing to play proper football, which could bring a third goal. In the final seconds of the match Ipswich lose the ball, Wednesday break away, cross the ball and the giant Kosovan heads the ball into the top corner of the goal. The game finishes and the Ipswich ‘supporters’ break their Trappist vows to boo, forgetting most of the previous ninety four minutes and preferring to concentrate on the final disappointing seconds. It does feel like defeat but heck most of the people here are old enough to have seen this all before; I am.


Braintree Town 1 Truro City 1

It’s a mild and blowy Tuesday night in November and there’s a ‘top of the table clash’ just eight miles down the road from my house as Braintree Town play Truro City in the Vanarama National League South. It might not be far from my house, but Braintree is a bloody long way from Truro, 343 miles apparently and as far as any club has ever travelled to play a league match against Braintree Town. In awe of such a statistic I am inexorably drawn to witness the occasion.
I could get to Braintree by train, but I’d have to change at Witham and I don’t want to do that. So I take the easy option, which is to drive. Parking up near the end of Clockhouse Way at about ten past seven, the streets are quiet, with no one heading for the match, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdrawn by the eerie glow of the floodlights through the now mostly skeletal boughs of the trees. L S Lowry would never have made much of his painting ‘Going to the match’ if he’d lived and painted in Braintree. Entering the car park of the Ironmongery Direct Stadium (formerly and more prosaically known as Cressing Road) I stop to snap a photo for this blog. “How many pictures of grounds have you got then?” asks a man heading for the turnstile. He thinks I’m a ground hopper. I am a bit embarrassed, but say “Oooh, not many, a couple of hundred”.
The admission price this season at Braintree has very sportingly been reduced from £16 to £14 following relegation and similarly the programme is 50p cheaper too, although it’s no longer glossy, I like it all the more for that. I enter the stadium to the strains of Amen Corner: “If paradise is half as nice as being here with you…” which makes me feel wanted. Sadly the welcoming choice of music does not last until kick-off as the two teams enter the field to Emerson Lake & Palmer’s “Fanfare for the common man”. I say Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s; but it was only their arrangement of a piece written by American composer Aaron Copland, which your common man might possibly not know. It’s no less appropriate for work-a-day Braintree but it’s a bit naff too. But there’s nothing very exotic about the Vanarama National League South,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA as its name perhaps suggests; like a lot of non-league football it is the haunt of builders and ‘White Van Man’, which is possibly why Vanarama, purveyors of commercial vehicles, thought it worth their while to sponsor it.
I take up a position at the end of the low metal roofed terrace on the east side of the ground, known as The Shed. Three Truro fans are attaching flags to the back wall of the stand, one of which refers to Truro being the Tin Men.

There is a larger group of Truro fans stood behind the goal at the end of the ground that the teams appeared from; they have a big Cornish flag. Truro City kick-off the game towards those supporters, wearing all blue, whilst Braintree make it a colourful spectacle by wearing all orange. The three Truro fans immediately make one helluva racket repeating “Truro, Truro, Truro” over and over and over again to the tune of Amazing Grace. A larger bunch of Braintree fans stood just a few yards away look on slightly bemused or perhaps impressed; eventually they respond with some chants of “Iron, Iron, Iron” , but not any old iron, the Iron that is Braintree Town’s nickname. They soon give up in the face of Truro’s Amazing Grace however, which eventually ends abruptly with a little cough. The Truro fans then start to sing ”Come on Truro, come on Truro” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne which is predictably answered with “Fuck off Truro, fuck off Truro” to the same tune; the concept of terrace wit is grossly exaggerated.
Meanwhile, jet airliners from Stanstead soar overhead, the noise of their engines blotted out by three blokes form Cornwall under an echoing tin roof. On the pitch Braintree look sharp from the start with their diminutive number seven darting about on the wing just in front of me and the Cornishmen. Both teams seem to be made up of three or four enormous blokes; at least two at the back and one up front. The remainder of the team look tiny by comparison, it’s as if the Vanarama National League South imposes some sort of combined height quota on its teams; the aggregate height of the team not being allowed to exceed the length of seven Transit vans placed end to end. Truro’s number four is possibly the most enormous man on the pitch, he sports a beard and although he is absolutely massive he doesn’t really deserve the ‘fat bastard’ epithet the Braintree supporters inevitably award him.
The three Cornishmen embark on an acapello rendition of “Come On Truro” in what is rapidly becoming an evening of K-tel ‘s greatest hits from the terraces . The Truro supporters behind the goal break into a rare song and the vocal threesome sing “We forgot that you were here” to Bread of Heaven. Intrigued by this I ask one of the Cornishmen why they aren’t they with the others behind the goal. He tells me it’s because they wanted to be under the roof. I ask if there isn’t some split between Truro supporters, “Don’t ask” he says, so I don’t. One of their flags is for the Truro City Independent Supporters Club so I just speculate that may be there is some sort of great Cornish schism much like the one that afflicted the Christian Church in the middle of the eleventh century. (1054).
Meanwhile it’s not a bad match, the blend of big blokes and smaller ones is an even one and the teams are well matched, but to the extent that the ball is rarely in danger of hitting either goal net. I am conscious that a man in a hi-vis jacket has been stood next to me for several seconds and I turn slightly to my right to face him. He’s a steward, and it’s as if he’s been waiting for me to acknowledge him, “Could you stand behind there please sir” he says, gesturing towards the chunky orange crush barrier. “Okay” I say cheerily, not wishing to cause a scene, although I had been quite happy where I was. The Beatles “Hey Jude” is now the vehicle for the latest chants of “Truro” whilst Braintree supporters weirdly and somewhat mournfully appropriate “Sloop John B” to chant “We know who we are, We know who we are, There’s one team in Essex, We know who we are”.
It’s about twenty past eight and suddenly the Braintree Town defence mysteriously melts away allowing Truro’s number ten Cody Cooke to run through and score a goal. The Truro fans are very pleased and inevitably have a song to celebrate the occasion as they tell us “ Cody Cooke is one of us, he loves Truro” although I thought it sounded like he loves Jesus, which of course he might. Half-past eight arrives and brings with it half-time and I move to the terrace by the players tunnel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The tannoy treats us to a rarely heard hit from 1970, Blackfoot Sue’s “Standing In The Road”; tonight at Cressing Road is proving to be a musical wonderland.
The second half begins and Braintree quickly hit their first decent shot on target and then they score as Roman Michael-Purcell easily turns in a cross from Phil Roberts who had made an exciting run forward. Restless as I am I am now sat in the box like main stand. Behind me a man who probably has a mental illness provides an occasional commentary announcing players names and incidents. His voice reminds me a little of the late John Arlot; he has a slight burr which lengthens the players’ names. He seems to have a love for the sounds of the names and is familiar with them all; he repeats some of them often such as Marcel Barrington and Christian Frimpong, who he calls Ping Pong. His ‘commentary’ is in in the style of John Motson as he announces substitutions for both teams but then Truro’s Andrew Neal flattens Frimpong in full flight. “Refereee, refereeee!” our commentator calls and then adds “Fucking cunt” . Then, to close this episode he says “Yellow card, Andrew Neal, the cheeky little fellow”.
The wind is getting stronger and swirls of willow leaves spiral down in front of the stand onto the edge of the pitch. More substitutions are announced behind me as is the fact that Matt Baxter does not come off the bench for Braintree, “ Not Matt Baxter, not Matt Baxter” is the refrain. The game remains tight and interesting as both teams play to win but don’t really come that close to getting a second goal. Truro substitute Tyler Harvey likes to run at the Braintree defence and creates a couple of half-chances and with his long tied back hair he looks like he might be found surfing on Newquay beach when not turning out on a Tuesday night for Truro City. I like to think there is a VW campervan somewhere in the club car park.
The match draws to a close with both sides going for goal unsuccessfully. It was tight at the top of the Vanarama National League South table when this game began and now when it ends at a bit after half past nine, it still is; a point for each team alters nothing. The home crowd are perhaps more disappointed not to have won than the travellers from Cornwall who have at least had a road trip and a jolly sing-song; and me, I’ve had a lovely time.


Colchester United 0 Morecambe 0

It Is a still, grey day. It is an autumn day with a winter chill. The train into Colchester is on time. There is a man in Colchester United themed attire on the station platform. I am wearing a 45 year old blue and white bar scarf myself, but mainly to keep out the cold rather than to express my love for Colchester United; my scarf is an Ipswich Town scarf. Opposite me on the train is a girl with glasses and green hair, she looks like she might have spent time as the plinth to a bronze statue, but I wouldn’t say it doesn’t suit her. Arriving in Colchester I waste no time in heading for the Bricklayers Arms

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: I have no reason to linger at the railway station; after all, I’m not a trainspotter.
It is but a short walk to the Bricklayers; even though it’s a quarter past one on a football Saturday, there aren’t many people in the pub. I soon avail myself of a pint of Adnams Old Ale (£3.65) from the cheerful blue-haired bar maid and take a seat with a copy of the Colchester local paper, The Gazette. The Gazette is a dull read today; I scan the letters page disdainfully, who gives a toss what the sort of people who write to the local paper think? The best bit of the paper is the local football news; Holland FC are cutting their playing budget, which no doubt explains why last week their manager resigned. There are a few more people in the pub now and nearby a middle aged man talks about bar scarves. “ I had one like that” he says pointing at his friend’s scarf and then proceeds to try and make a point ( I think) about why his original scarf was better, but he never really gets to the point before his friends interrupt with their scarf experiences and another bloke arrives with the beers . It doesn’t matter, he is going to buy a new hat at the club shop today anyway. I get a second pint; Damson Porter (£3.80) this time.
The conversation about me is dull and there is rugby on the telly, I leave to catch the bus to “Layer Road”, or “Weston Homes out in the middle of nowhere stadium” as it’s now known. As I turn the corner into Bruff Road

from where the buses leave a bus leaves, but another one rolls forward to take its place. The bus driver shares his cab with a young boy (his son?) who he gets to operate the ticket machine. Paying my £2.50 return fare I ascend the stairs, ticket in hand and take a seat at the front of the bus. “Hello Martin” says a voice next to me “Hello Martin“ I say. It’s a man I used to work with called Martin; he is retired, he has a Colchester United season ticket. He tells me how later this monthhe is going to see England women’s team play Kazhakstan at “Layer Road” and his ticket only cost a pound.
The bus soon arrives at the stadium and before going in I buy a programme (£3)and take a look in the club shop. I pick up a “fixture list and family guide”, whatever that is; football fixtures and family planning advice in one handy leaflet? Anything is possible. I walk to the end of the stand, the Morecambe team busOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA is sat with the engine running; it’s a long trip to Morecambe so may be the driver is hoping for a quick getaway. There isn’t much going on outside the stadium so I head for the turnstile. Once inside I feel compelled to visit the toilet. Feeling more comfortable I meet another man called Martin who I used to work with; he has a season ticket like the other Martin, but isn’t retired. Martin is compelled to visit the toilet just like I was and so I take up my seat; there is no one sat either side of me, there aren’t many people here today, I later learn that I am one of just 2,872. It’s the smallest crowd for a Saturday league game at “Layer Road” this season.
Kick-off is imminent and with no delays for minutes’ silences or applauses today the match soon starts. Colchester United get to kick the ball first this afternoon, heading towards the A12 and small Marks & Spencer in the service station over the dual carriageway. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColchester wear their ‘traditional’ blue and white striped shirts and white shorts with blue and white hooped socks. I like hooped socks; I wish Ipswich Town would wear them. Morecambe wear the archetypal away kit, an insipid all pale yellow number which is bland and annoying. It’s as if no one at Morecambe could be bothered to come up with anything distinctive. I can forgive clubs for a lack of ambition, especially on home gates of less than two-thousand, but please look like you care. It is unclear why Morecambe even need to wear their away kit today because their first choice colours are red shirts with white shorts.
The ball is hoofed off the pitch within seconds of the start, but that’s a highlight as the game quickly settles into a boring goalless draw. Morecambe do little to begin with, and whilst Colchester have the ball at their feet more of the time they don’t do anything much that would result in a goal. Individuals make runs with the ball, but the concept of passing it accurately seems alien.
The two blokes behind me have a conversation which is as directionless as the game. I hear snippets. ”It was cold yesterday, Monday it was cold” one says. “According to the paper there were 600 there, I thought it looked more” says the other. Colchester are awarded a corner. “ I know it was cold Monday at work….no, I wasn’t at work on Monday. But it was cold”. Elsewhere in the stadium the crowd briefly comes to life “Come on Col U” they implore a couple of times before falling silent again. The game fails to grip the attention of the blokes behind who carry on their conversation “I went to watch Leyton Orient, they fucking got beat mate, load of fucking shite mate”. “Whereabouts is Morecambe?” “It’s north of Blackpool on the coast. Don’t you remember, where those cockle pickers were?” Eddie the Eagle the Colchester mascot walks back and forth like a wild animal in captivity, which I suppose he is, in a way.
Morecambe, whose club badge consists of a huge shrimp on a red background set beneath the word “Morecambe” eventually begin to have an equal share of possession as if they realise that Colchester are incapable of doing anything with the ball, so they might as well have a go. Morecambe fluff a couple of half chances but then a careless back pass leaves the interestingly named Aaron Wildig in front of the Colchester goal keeper with the ball at his feet. But Wildig fails to react quickly enough, then chooses to shoot from a narrow angle when he could have passed the ball; his shot is easily saved and the opportunity is lost.
Half-time is a blessed relief and I queue in the anaemically, strip- lit void beneath the

stand for a pound’s worth of Tetley tea; others, mostly smokers, escape the claustrophobia of the concourse through the open doors at the back of the stand. It feels like we have been granted our freedom and I half expect stewards to move amongst us telling as we are free to go if we wish. Mindful that I paid £17.50 to be here I returnOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ‘indoors’ and make my way back to my seat, warming my hands around my paper cup of tea.
The second half begins and some Colchester supporters seem galvanised by being able to shout abuse at the away teams goalkeeper; bizarrely as the “The Shrimps” goalkeeper prepares to take a free-kick a man at the back of the stand calls out what sounds like “Get on with it , Coco Chanel”. Despite the Morecambe players all wearing little black dresses with matching handbags the game doesn’t get any better and my mind begins to wander. There is a small brown leaf on the back of the seat in front of me

evidencing the onset of autumn, but also the fact that the stadium cleaning regime probably needs improving; there is an assortment of other rubbish behind other seats.
The game is two-thirds of the way through, for the first time I think I hear faint cries of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Come on Morecambe’ from the half a pint or so of Shrimp fans searching for one another in the corner of the ground. Some of the Colchester supporters are getting restless; there are some more chants of “Come on Col U, Come on Col U” and angry groans when passes fail to find Colchester players.


A man in front delivers an implausibly shrill “Whaaaat!?” when referee Mr Lee Collins awards Morecambe a free-kick. There are more plaintive calls of “Come on Col U” as supporters begin to plead with their team to score a goal. This was meant to be a game Colchester would win; the U’s are tenth in the league table, two points off the play-off places, nine places and eight points ahead of Morecambe.
Substitutions are made. It’s nearly twenty to five and Colchester’s number nineteen Mikael Mandron breaks down the left, he gets in the penalty area, gets to the goal line and hooks his foot around the ball to send a low cross in to the centre. All around there is excitement and expectation. A man in front of me begins to stand up. The Colchester substitute, number twenty-four Craig Slater is there, he shapes to shoot the ball into the net, he must score; he completely misses the ball, collapsing in a tangle of legs and arms with a Morecambe defender. From near ecstasy to embarrassment in the blink of an eye. A short while later Slater misses again, but this time he gets the ball, smashing it against the cross bar; so that’s not so bad. As the addition of three minutes added-on time isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA announced a big number 3 appears on the scoreboard and there is a dash for the exits, as if another three minutes of this will be just too much to bear.
Mr Collin’s final whistle predictably is the prequel to a chorus of boos that echo around the emptying stands. It’s been a dull game OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAon a dull afternoon and the intensity of this dull experience has been deepened by the fact that there weren’t many of us here to witness it. Up in the stand a board advertises the ‘Matchday Experience’ and gives a local telephoone number, as if you could just phone up to experience what we’ve all just been through.  I head off towards the bus stops, numbed but nevertheless enriched by the glumness of the occasion. Such awful games are what it’s all about; pain and missed opportunities. That’s life. Good, innit.

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Haverhill Borough 0 Felixstowe & Walton United 3

Haverhill and Felixstowe are on opposite sides of the county of Suffolk, Felixstowe being in the far east, on the coast, Haverhill in the far west, almost in Cambridgeshire and as close as anywhere in Suffolk gets to a motorway, the M11. Unless you live within walking distance, getting to Haverhill is only possible by road, the town having been deprived of its railway by Dr Beeching in the late 1960’s; a really stupid decision given that in the same decade Haverhill was chosen as one of a number of small towns which would expand with ‘overspill’ population from London. Cambridge is where trains comes closest and then it’s a number 13 bus to Haverhill. The town now has a population of some 28,000 compared to the 5,500 who lived here before it was expanded; it could do with its own railway station, it’s one of the largest towns without one.
My journey by car to Haverhill, whilst not a good thing for the environment is pleasurable enough as I drive along the winding roads of north Essex, darkened by drying smears of damp from earlier in the day. A watery sun appears beneath and between dark clouds and brilliant yellows and golds from leaves that still cling to grey trees illuminate the roadside. Thatched and half-timbered buildings line the way, there’s a village green, a closed pub called the Sugar Loaves, two football teams observe a minute’s silence as I pass by; this is rural England on a Saturday afternoon in autumn.
Driving out of the wonderfully named village of Sturmer I reach the edge of Haverhill, with its industrial estates and business park and row upon row of bland estate housing. At its edge it’s a bleak looking place, a mini new town, out of keeping with its rustic, geographical location. But the grey cloud has cleared and the sky is now blue, I follow the orbital road around the north of the town carefully negotiating the rubber, traffic calming speed bumps. Just past a large school, or academy as it is now pretentiously known is the town sports centre and New Croft,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the San Siro of west Suffolk shared by both Haverhill Rovers and Haverhill Borough football clubs as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza is shared by Inter Milan and AC Milan. But this being England the two Haverhill’s don’t actually play on the same pitch, Rovers play on a grass one on one side of the sports centre and Borough play on a ‘plastic’ 3G pitch at 90 degrees to it.
Parking within staggering distance of the turnstile I stop to admire the club crest which features a spinning wheel, there is also a notice announcing rather ungenerously that there is no free entry after half-time. Disappointed by such stinginess I approach the turnstile. “Oi, there’s another one” a man says to the turnstile operator who is about to desert his post. He’s referring to me, bloody cheek. “Another one”!

Channelling the spirit of Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner I tell him, I’m not just another one (or a number); I don’t think he believes me. Entry costs £6.00 which is pretty standard for the Eastern Counties Premier League and the attractive looking, but 38286394166_3d8c45cd71_oultimately slightly dull programme costs a further £1.00. Boldly, the front cover features a colourised photo of what looks like quite a nasty two-footed tackle by a bearded Haverhill player. Just inside the turnstile to the left is the tea hut; it’s neat and new and its black weather boarding gives the appearance of a traditional ‘shed’, the type ofOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA structure that all non-league grounds should have. Its open door is welcoming and I venture inside and invest in £2.50’s worth of bacon roll and £1.20’s worth of tea, served to me by a pleasant young woman who is appreciative of the change I offer her in payment. As I turn to leave I recognise a group of Ipswich Town supporters sat at a table drinking tea, they are at a loose end because International matches have resulted in a blank weekend for the Town and they have chosen Haverhill to get their weekly football fix.
I eat my bacon roll and drink my tea outside, trying to absorb the pre-match atmosphere; but there isn’t any. There are a lot of Felixstowe supporters here today, probably because their team, who are known as the ‘Seasiders’ are top of the league, some 13 points aheadOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA of the team in second place having won eighteen of the nineteen games they have played. But the Felixstowe fans aren’t a rowdy bunch, although they add a splash of colour with their red and white scarves. I use the toilet facilities, which are round the corner by Haverhill Rovers’ pitch. Returning into the green cage that surrounds the 3G artificial pitch I detect that my hands and fingers smell as if the soap dispensers in the toilet were filled with washing up liquid; odd.


It’s almost time for the match to start and a bloke with a radio microphone announces that there will be a minute’s silence before kick-off and he then reads out the teams,

shirt numbers and surnames only. Being Haverhill, the announcer has a London accent and therefore a lot of vowel sounds are absent, but amusingly (for me anyway) it sounds as a result as if the Haverhill number 11 is called Bottom; he is actually called Botten. The Felixstowe left-back is called Stefano Mallardo and I don’t know why, but some strange word association forms in my head and I imagine a man called Arturo Mullardo, who had he been real might have been Benito Mussolini’s favourite comedian.
Respectful silence observed to a background of shouts from a match taking place on a neighbouring pitch, Felixstowe kick off booting towards that academy and the Haverhill Rovers pitch. Felixstowe wear red and white strips with red shorts and from the front their shirts look like Signal toothpaste; Haverhill wear a faded looking all blue kit which has a nasty sheen to it and on the basis of their kit I do not think they will win this afternoon. Less than five minutes into the match and a Haverhill player swings a leg to hoof the ball clear of the penalty area. Nobody laughs, but hilariously he misses the ball completely and instead poleaxes a Felixstowe player stood where the ball should have been. There is not much doubt it is a penalty, although it did look bizarrely accidental, and as a result Felixstowe quickly take the lead as Francis sends the penalty kick past Borough ‘keeper Smith. The Felixstowe supporters, many of whom have gathered on a small terrace which looks like an opened-up metal shoe box, cheer merrily.
Haverhill respond quite well to falling behind so soon and possess the ball all around the Felixstowe penalty area but don’t manage a shot. The Borough goalkeeper makes lots of encouraging noises and urges ‘more urgency’ for some reason; with over 80 minutes still to play I think he’s panicking. Has he never heard the phrase “Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey” I wonder. That’s English football for you though, with its “Get it in the mixer” mentality.
I am intrigued as to why Felixstowe are so far ahead at the top of the league table and search for something special amongst their team. It’s true that they are nearly all quite tall and they look more imposing than the Haverhill team, but their respective kits have something to do with that. Felixstowe certainly have fewer fat players and Borough are notable for having two or three quite portly fellows in their team. I attribute this to diet with Felixstowe probably eating more fish being coastal and Haverhill just eating pie and mash because they are displaced Londoners. One way in which non-league football has the edge over po-faced professionalism is in the variety of shapes and sizes of the players and the fact that a bloke who looks like he has just stepped out of the crowd can be the butt of terrace jokes but then deliver a defence splitting pass or make a perfectly timed sliding tackle. Haverhill’s left-back is such a player as he explains to the wide-man in front of him something about ‘getting there’ and a bloke in the Felixstowe crowd asks “Getting where? The buffet?” How we laugh.
The game has settled down into a combative affair; disappointingly Felixstowe are not spectacular, they don’t tear Haverhill apart with joyous, flowing football but they are the better team and most of the action takes place in the Haverhill half of the plastic “3G” pitch on which clouds of tiny rubber balls are puffed up with every kick and bounce of

the ball. There are clouds in the sky above too, slightly unusual ones and more beautiful than the game. Haverhill’s number four is the first player to be booked by referee Mr Cutmore and there are a number of discussions between referee and players as decisions are questioned and foul play admonished. Some discussions appear quite intimate as referee and players stand very close to one another.
At about twenty five to four Felixstowe score another goal, a corner sees the ball drop in front of Davies and he can’t miss from about four yards out; Haverhill’s players complain that the Seasiders’ goal keeper had bundled one of their players over; Mr Cutmore listens politely but dismisses their pleas without hesitation.
Another ten minutes of physicality pass and it’s half-time. I have edged my way towards the tea hut as the first half ebbs away and am one of the first to get another £1.20’s worth of tea. The air is heavy with smell of chip-frying in the hut so I head back outside where my tea cools nicely as evening begins to envelop the New Croft. I take a look about;

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there are lots of notices attached to the cage that surrounds the 3G pitch; smoking and chewing gum are banned within the confines of the “3G Stadium”, presumably not because of concerns about public health or unsightly, open-mouthed mastication but because of what cigarettes and gum might do to the plastic and rubber. With its plastic pitch, metal stands and fences and little wheels beneath the goals the stadium seems very artificial and temporary, as if after the game it will be folded up and put away in a cupboard inside the sports centre. I smile at a banner that proclaims that the Co-op funeral service proudly sponsors walking football; if I was a walking footballer I think I’d be worried and would be wary of men in black stood on the touchline. The Co-op must think they’re onto a good thing; middle aged blokes on a diet of pie and mash still playing sport, even slowly.
The return of Mr Cutmore and his entourage jolts me from my reverie.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I drain my paper cup and the game begins again, and Haverhill have more of the ball than before, but no more shots on goal than in the first half. Several times Haverhill break away down the left flank, but nothing more than that, and when they do shoot it troubles the high metal fencing more than the Felixstowe goalkeeper. I take up a seat at the back of the metal stand a bit further along from the shoe box. The floodlights are on and reflect off the bald pate of the man sat in front of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAme, fortunately the lenses in my glass are ‘reactalight’. Unusually all the spectator accommodation is on just one side of the ground and it’s not possible to walk all around the pitch, which is a bit disappointing as I can’t stand behind the dugout and listen to the managers cursing and swearing at their players, the linesmen and the referee. Bad language is an essential part of the game despite the Eastern Counties league’s entreaties in the programme to “Keep it down for the kids”. Substitutions take place. On the opposite side of the pitch the linesman is busy. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHis shock of orange hair is quite stunning and matches the autumn colours of the leaves on the trees behind him; as the light fades he almost glows beneath the beams of the floodlights. The other linesman is a slight figure with a thin beard, he looks like he’s feeling the cold and guiltily slips a hand into the pocket of his shorts when play is at the other end of the pitch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The second half is a bit boring. The football isn’t very good. It’s clear Felixstowe have this game won and its only half past four. A Haverhill supporter snipes that the Felixstowe players are from Ipswich, as if being from somewhere 10 miles away is a terrible crime in a local league for local people. A Seasider retorts spikily that the players are from Felixstowe, like the supporters, perhaps implying that most of the population of Haverhill is really from London, but I could be reading too much into that.
Sensing my boredom perhaps, the Seasiders push forward again and a cross from the left results in a shot which is blocked and then from close to the edge of the penalty area the ball is half-volleyed into the corner of the Haverhill goal by the fictional sounding substitute, Kye Ruel. The goal removes all doubt about the final result and ten to five soon arrives when Mr Cutmore blows his whistle to call time. Those from Haverhill leave quietly, whilst the Felixstowe fans wait to applaud their team. I am soon in my car and negotiating rubber speed bumps.

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Ipswich Town 3 Preston North End 0

Ipswich Town and Preston North End are arguably two of the least interesting teams in whatever it is that Football League Division Two is now called. Preston, despite being the original ‘Invincibles’ have not played in the top flight of English football since 1960 and now, almost famously, Ipswich have been becalmed, marooned, stuck in English football’s second tier for 15 years and nobody really expects either club to do much more than finish in mid-table. Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy said as much in his pre-match press conference; he is nothing if not truthful is our Mick. These two ‘small-town’ provincial clubs have both enjoyed a level of success in the past that far exceeds what might be expected of them and for that reason they are both very special.
It is a grey, wet, blustery, thoroughly autumnal day as I set out for the train station and the bright floodlights of Ipswich. The largely infrequent, but nevertheless large plops of rain are enough to warrant the carrying of an umbrella, which the wind blows inside out. A Colchester United fan boards the train with me, blissfully unaware that his team are destined to lose at home to non-league Oxford City later this afternoon in the first round of the FA Cup. A Town fan in a wheelchair sits by the sliding doors. Leaves swirl horizontally past the train window. Pulling out of Colchester the serried ranks of suburban homes look at their best on such a drab day; the wet tarmac of the estate road shining in front of them like a snail trail under torchlight. Opposite me a mother and daughter sit, each with the same long, blond/mousey hair and Roman nose. One is doing her best to look much younger, the other trying hard to look holder. It makes me feel guilty to be a man. At Manningtree the grey clouds and subdued colours of the trees in Dedham Vale are just right to keep John Constable at his easel and away from Portman Road this afternoon, but four other blokes get on and share their mild, blokey humour with one another. I look down out of the window and see a tomato plant on the track and three plump green tomatoes that will never be fried or ripen to be eaten in a Salade Nicoise.
The train arrives on time in Ipswich and the man in the wheelchair asks me to find a guard to get him off the train; happily, the first one I meet is on her way to get him.38133418286_f6fc1767bc_o Outside, Ipswich is beautiful in a grey, wet and shiny sort of a way. I head down Princes Street then down and up Portman Road to St Matthews Street and St Jude’ s Tavern. In Portman Road the turnstiles are already open, stewards fiddle with their metal detectors and the sniffer dog and his handler peer up the street. I think about buying a match programme as I approach the kiosk and read ‘Here to help’ on the back of the seller’s jacket. I am tempted to test the boast by asking if the programme is worth the £3 I would be expected to pay for it.

I chicken out and walk on, saving my cash to spend just two-thirds of it on a pint of Nethergate IPA at St Jude’s; it’s cheap because it is today’s Match Day Special! It is so good St Jude's Tavern 69 St Matthews StI have another and then, to avoid feeling like a complete skinflint I pay full price (£3.40) for a pint of Bearstown Polar Eclipse, a dark beer which is exceedingly good. At the table next to me in the pub are a group of five Preston North End fans; I tell them I have heard good things of their bus station and they smile, sort of. It transpires that none of them now lives in Preston. One of them tells me they are literally ‘exiles’; I don’t ask. I chat off and on with them and one confides that Ipswich are still the best team he has ever seen play against Preston; in an FA Cup third round match in 1979 which Town won 3-0. It is one of those “aw shucks” moments to hear my team complimented so. Another one of the group tells me how amazed they are that St Jude’s is so close Portman Road, is such a good pub and yet isn’t rammed to the gills. I confide that Ipswich fans don’t seem to ‘get’ real ale and it reminds me of how in Hunter Davies’ book ‘The Glory Game’ a Spurs skinhead says how Ipswich is his favourite place to visit, “More cunt” he says “They ain’t got no supporters. All the geezers up there don’t know what it’s for. We always stay the night there and chase their birds’. That was in 1972; that skinhead later became Defence Minister, allegedly……
I bid farewell to the good Prestonians, wishing them a happy season as they leave for the match before I visit the lavatory and then set off for Portman Road myself, remembering to return my empty glass to the bar before I leave. As I turn into Portman Road I notice38189181011_81180be5db_o the poor state of the street name plate, which looks like someone has got at it with an angle grinder. Slightly upset that anyone could do this to something that signifies an Ipswich icon, I nevertheless continue on my way. The weather has cleared up and

although the floodlights are on, the lowering sun is still to be seen over the silver roof of the north stand, or Sir Bobby Robson stand as it is now known. I pass on down Portman Road and the statue of Sir Bobby seems to point me on my way, which is unnecessarily helpful of him. I glance up at the Cobbold Stand admiring the rhythm of its concrete stanchions, although no doubt it fails to impress the Preston fans, spoiled by their fabulous Grade II listed, Brutalist, bus station. There is no queue at the turnstile and no security check to ensure I am not a suicide bomber or concealing a musical instrument about my person, which would be a serious breach of ground regulations.
Before today’s match there is a minute’s silence because this is the closest day to Armistice Day on which Town have a home match and apparently the club wants to pay its respects. It is weird, in all those years when there were most people still alive whoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fought in the two greatest conflicts ever, the two World Wars, a minute’s silence only took place at 11 am on the 11th of November and on Remembrance Sunday; nowadays it’s best to tread softly at this time of year when entering a football stadium in case you inadvertently interrupt one. There are eight paratroopers in the centre circle and a lone bugler who plays the last post. The bugler is miked up and relayed through the PA system, but unfortunately because the PA system is so loud there is feedback or reverb and a simultaneous ‘farted’ rendition of the last post is heard through the loudspeakers. According to Wikipaedia, Le Pétomane, Joseph Pujol the French ‘flatulist’ retired from the stage because he was so horrified by the inhumanity of the First World War.
The paratroopers march off and around the pitch as people applaud and into the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand where they break ranks and begin to fumble in their OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtunic pockets for their match tickets, looking a bit confused as to where they are supposed to sit. The game begins. It’s awful. Perhaps one of the worst forty five minutes of ‘football’ I have ever seen. Nothing of any genuine sporting interest happens. Preston players fall over a lot, but the Ipswich trainer is also called on to attend to the fallen and all that really happens is that added-on time is racked up. Even Crazee the Ipswich Town mascot looks to have given up all hope today as heOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA hangs his head despairingly, standing at the top of the stairs. Mick MCarthy adopts various poses, showing himself off to good effect in his nylon tracksuit. I spend a little time looking at the Preston supporters to see if I can spot the blokes I was in the pub with; in a following of about 430 it’s not that difficult and I pick them out all sat in a row. I wonder what they are making of the game.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My attention is then caught by the Preston number four Ben Pearson because his hair is longer than that of the other players; watching it flow and flop and bounce as he runs about is more entertaining than the game and I am reminded of Adrian Rabiot of Paris St Germain, as I often am by my wife who is besotted with him. But Pearson is no Rabiot and he needs more work on his hair.
As ever, the Portman Road crowd (14,390 today) is very quiet; there is a momentary rumble of drums at the start of the match and some muffled chants but they soon lose interest in getting behind the team. I chant and clap “Ipswich! Ipswich! Ipswich!” when a corner is won, but am ignored in the same way that people would put their heads down and pass quickly on past a drunken derelict shouting at passing cars. The first and only ripple of anything like enthusiasm manifests itself on 23 minutes when the crowd cheer the booking of Preston’s Jorgan Hugill; that’s what they thrive on in Ipswich, Schadenfreude. Incidentally, Hugill is a man who, with his World War One conscript style hair cut looks from a distance a bit like Terry Hall formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three. Preston have many injured players who cannot play today and with a weakened team it seems that they are banking on ensuring no football is played, in the belief or hope that twenty two blokes just running around and occasionally falling over will result in a goalless draw. Sadly Ipswich don’t have the wit or guile to prevent this and have a bit of a record of adopting a similar tactic in recent seasons, relying on randomly won free-kicks and corners to create goalmouth confusion and hopefully goals, albeit scrappy ones. All goes well for Preston until Ipswich’s Martyn Waghorn wins a free-kick some 25 metres from goal. It’s a chance to by-pass the awkward footballing bit of the game and just kick the ball over the assembled human wall of Preston players and straight at the goal. This is what Martyn Waghorn proceeds to do, sweeping the ball majestically over that Maginot Line and into the goal as Preston’s goalkeeper Chris Maxwell helpfully throws himself out of the way. Within five minutes added-on time there is a moment in which Preston’s dreadlocked Daniel Johnson launches the ball on to the top of the Ipswich cross-bar with a flash of inspiration, but then it’s half time. The crowd applaud as Town leave the field, forgetting the first forty-four minutes of the match and only recalling the last five in which Town took the lead. But I have mentioned it, lest we forget.
I seek out a former work colleague at half-time who I had spoken to on the phone the day before; he sits with his grandson who has cerebral palsy. I then meet another friend Phil, who is famous as a man who has seen over a thousand consecutive competitive Town


Phil (bottom right)

games home and away; he gets featured in articles and stuff, not just blogs that very few people read. Phil is a proper supporter, whose love for Ipswich Town is unconditional. He doesn’t whine when Town lose, or hurl abuse at Mick McCarthy, he’s too busy worrying if he might miss the next game.
Within three minutes of the resumption of play Town are 2-0 up as David McGoldrick rises at the far post to head in a right wing cross. Phil jumps up much more enthusiastically than I do, but then he is a good ten years younger than me. People around me are happier now, but even before the goal they seem generally lighter of mood in this little bit of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand than they do where I usually sit. It’s as if the first half was July 28th to December 24th 1914 and now it’s Christmas Day and a football match has spontaneously broken out.
Things get better still as a move down the right sees Ipswich’s Kosovan loanee Bursant Celina forge his way into the penalty area and surprise everyone by suddenly booting the ball into the goal past the goalkeeper, who is inevitably by now hapless. Phil and I chant “Ohhh, Bursant Celina” to the tune of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes. No one else joins in. Preston are now forced to seriously alter their game plan and Ipswich are therefore required to defend more, so we don’t see any more goals today. Ipswich fans are happy and smiling and there are even some chants at the other end of the ground. The North standers, their confidence boosted by the three goal cushion, remember that the Preston manager was previously the Norwich City manager; “Alex Neal; what a wanker” they sing.
Those seeking out the familiar territory of disappointment can do so by reflecting thatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ipswich haven’t scored four or five goals today, but to be fair to the team they have achieved a very respectable victory by playing just half a game. With the final whistle I applaud the team and then file away with everyone else into Saturday evening. At the southern end of Portman Road the street nameplate which sits at first floor level on the Archant building looks pristine in contrast to that at the northern end.

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