Ipswich Town 0 Queen’s Park Rangers 0

It is Boxing Day and I would quite like to stay in and eat and drink the leftovers from the day before, may be read a book, watch a film, do some colouring-in in my book of “…tous les 20 logos des équipes de Ligue 1 pour la saison 2016-17.” The colouring book was a Christmas present.
Up until 1959 there were Football League matches played on Christmas Day; imagine that. Often, a season’s biggest attendance is drawn for a Boxing Day game and whilst this used to be due to local derbies, there is still an added attraction for games played over the Christmas holiday period, perhaps just because there’s not a lot else to do.
Mindful of the tradition of the Boxing Day football fixture today I am setting out to watch Ipswich at home to Queen’s Park Rangers, which as a London club is as close as we now get to a local derby on a public holiday. Sadly, in these cautious, pale and insipid, wimpish modern times the days of the Christmas and Easter derby games against Norwich are long gone. Incredibly, there is no public transport today; it is wrong that that a football match that will definitely draw a crowd in excess of 10,000 is allowed to go ahead at all when there are no buses and no trains. So much for trying to reduce road congestion and air pollution by discouraging the use of private cars.
Previously, I have not bothered with Boxing Day games because of the absence of public transport, but no one wanted my ticket today and rather than waste it I thought I’d help contribute to global warming instead and drive to the game. Parking up ‘over Chantry’,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA it’s a pleasant stroll down through sunny Gippeswyk Park beneath a pale blue winter sky towards Portman Road. From the top of the Park there is a fine view across the town centre, which takes in the Portman Road floodlights and the back drop of town centre office blocks which define down-town Ipswich from a distance. It’s a bit after two o’clock and the streets are quiet; I walk past the railway station not quite believing that it could be shut, but it definitely is.
On Princes Street, banners have been put up on the lamp standards to advertise the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApantomime at the Regent theatre; aside from the railway station being shut, it’s the only sign that it might be Christmas. Across the car park from Portman Road the former Sporting Farmer public house sits shut and awaiting demolition; it’s been a part of the match day landscape of Ipswich since 1962, but there is no seasonal, pre-match boozing this year, just Heras fencing and darkened windows.


Portman Road is a little busier than usual for a quarter past two, and I snake my way through the crowds as I head for the Fanzone. Usually, I might have a couple of pre-match pints at St Jude’s Tavern, but having to drive to the match today has meant that

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

not only will I be helping destroy the planet, I will also be helping with the decline of the local economy. A group of three or four stewards stand at the entrance to the Fanzone, checking tickets and bags. A casual wave of my season ticket card and I’m in. I feel like I’ve been admitted to Studio 54.
In the Fanzone there is a large white marquee that looks like something from a summer wedding reception. It’s warm inside the marquee and people mill about holding plastic cups of lager and Greene King beer. At one end are three TV screens, which face three or four neat lines of chairs, it’s like a waiting room, it just needs a few magazines and an occasional table. Outside there is a children’s penalty shoot-out, which is popular, in contrast to the merchandise stall from which a lonely salesperson peers blankly.
There’s nothing for me here so I leave and make my way to the Sir Alf Ramsey stand; inside I decide to break with tradition and invest in an overpriced cup of hot chocolate. A pretty, smiling young woman serves me and asks for £2.10. I hand her a twenty-pound OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnote and apologise, but add that the club doesn’t make her job any easier by sticking odd ten pences onto their prices. She agrees that the prices are awkward for what is supposed to be a fast service. Any way to squeeze an extra few pence out of the supporters though. Clutching my Cadbury’s branded cup of pale brown liquid I find my seat. The club mascot Bluey is prowling the aisle that leads to my seat, offering himself up for selfies and hugs. Bluey doesn’t speak and a woman tries to communicate with him through grunts and sign language; odd.
Once Bluey has gone I take the plastic lid off my hot chocolate and stir it thoroughly toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ensure that all of the chocolatey gunk which contains the flavour has dissolved. I taste the pale brown liquid; it’s watery and the water has a slight tang which fights with and then beats off the chocolate flavour. Hot chocolate should be thick, this isn’t; I won’t be buying it again.
The game begins and the QPR fans are the quickest this season to ask if they are in a library, it’s almost as if they had already decided that would be their first song before they even got here. Ipswich start the game reasonably well and David McGoldrick soon has a decent shot on goal. Teddy Bishop, who I don’t feel I have ever really seen play, has made a rare start and is looking good, although QPR seem intent of kicking him into the air at every opportunity; perhaps because he has the temerity to run at defenders.
Teddy returns to the toy box before half-time due to injury and the game goes downhill from here. Callum Connolly has had a good looking shot from distance for Ipswich and Bartosz Bialkowski tips a QPR player’s header onto the cross-bar, but otherwise the game is awful. The physicality of the game leads to injuries, which are a good way of wasting time and nullifying the scant football content still further. The referee Mr Andy Davies, a couple of physios and a clutch of QPR players with bald heads create a tableau ofOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA suffering in the QPR penalty area. The only cheers from the crowd are derisive ones as a pass goes wildly astray or someone falls over, which happens quite a lot; derisive cheers are what the Portman Road crowd does best.
Half-time is a blessed relief and I descend beneath the stand to check the other half-time scores and join the spectators standing about and gawping at the tv screens which mostly advertise some mysterious place called Brocket Hall and days at the races. White lights dangle from the high roof and there is a Christmas tree at the foot of the stairs to

the Legends Bar and a string of something green winds its way around a soil pipe, but otherwise it doesn’t seem like Boxing Day, the Christmas spirit is elusive.
I decide to endure the second half with Phil the ever present fan but today he has his son Elwood with him and the seats beyond Elwood are taken up by people for whom this is presumably some sort of Christmas ‘treat’. I sit a couple of rows back next to Pat the secretary of the Clacton branch of the supporters club. Pat admits to not really liking Boxing Day fixtures either, she’d rather be at home and says she hopes every year for away fixture.
The second half witnesses the home crowd finally get festive with an albeit isolated chorus of “Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away, and we will fight for ever more, because of Boxing Day” . Christmas is the season of peace and goodwill to all men after all, but that may be why, regrettably, Ipswich Town have not played Norwich City on Boxing Day for over thirty years.
The match gets worse; both teams are inept, but this is largely due to their desire to simply run around as fast as they can and knock each other off the ball. A lot of modern professional football is like this in an age where the levels of fitness and strength of footballers exceed the level of their skill. Sports science is a curse. Both Ipswich and Queen’s Park Rangers are managed by pragmatists whose teams are built on their ability to ‘put in a shift’. I get tired just watching it; or is it bored?
Seven minutes from time Ipswich Town bring on arguably their most skilful player, Bersant Celina. The crowd cheer cheerily for once. Messiah-like, Bersant brings light to the game and brightens up the final minutes. He introduces some hope, some optimism, but that’s all, even when QPR’s Josh Scowen is sent off, booked by Mr Davies for a second time. Despite Scowen making the longest walk even longer there are only three minutes of added on time and they quickly ebb away as does the crowd of 18,696 when Mr Davies blows the final whistle.

Colchester United 1 Port Vale 1

It is the day before Christmas Eve, a dull, dirty December day. A breeze has dried the pavements and roads but the damp is in the ground and releases a chill into the air like a radiator in reverse. It’s a short train journey into Colchester but the carriage is well loaded with people ‘going to stay’ for Christmas, the gangways between the seats are blocked up with suitcases.
Opposite me a bulbous-eyed, red faced man is on his mobile phone organising last minute work details as he heads off for the holidays… “Take Stella’s name out….sanitise it….just say it’s a commodity distribution company….a cdc…”. It all sounds a bit dodgy. Twat, I think. Behind me a woman asks a man if he is going to Colchester. No, Stowmarket” he says. “ Is that near Norwich?” “ Yes “ he lies, although I suspect it would just be too much bother to be truthful and to say “No”. People do that I find; I do that.
In Colchester I leave the train and head for the Bricklayers Arms, following a bald headed man in a camouflage jacket who disappears into the pub fifty yards ahead of me. I stride across the pub car park eager for a beer, there is a man with a large Airedale terrier in the smoking shelter. At the bar I order a pint of Adnams Old Ale (£3.65; I can’t see the man in the camouflage jacket anywhere). There are a few people enjoying a drink, it being nearly Christmas, but conversation is quiet and there don’t seem to be many football fans in yet. Two men and a woman, who is wearing a sparkly woolly hat with a furry bobble, occupy the next table along from me. The woman is on her mobile phone as she sits down. “No, I’m going to London tomorrow. We’re taking the dogs up town” she says mysteriously before sitting down with her back to me. Phone conversation over, one of the men dominates the pub conversation; he talks about the Star Wars films. “I’m not a sci-fi person” he says “ But basically those three made in the 1990’s were shite; but I always go and see them all because I feel if I don’t I might be missing something… I know I’m going to come away disappointed.”
I get another pint of beer (Adnams Broadside £3.70) and speak to a man at the bar called Mike who I vaguely know from my wife’s church. He is waiting to swap a pint of St Austell Tribute which refuses to settle for a pint of Adnams Ghostship. The Broadside is very enjoyable and I am still savouring it as I board the bus to the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium (£2.50 return). There is plenty of leg room

on the bus which is good. The front window on the upper deck has a blue tint across the top which reminds me of my first car, a mark two Ford Escort. Hopefully the bus won’t get written off on a frosty road like the Ford Escort did.
Once off the bus I join a queue for a programme (£3), then pop into the club shop, not to

 

buy anything but just because I am fascinated by club shops and the things they sell. It’s like visiting an art gallery. Back outside the Port Vale team bus nestles at the back of the main stand, a few hardy souls sit and drink coffee at the picnic tables outside the Hot Shots café, which is serving locally made ice cream. At the corner of the ground a vast screen stares out across the A12 advertising forthcoming ‘attractions’. It seems that inOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA July four young women dressed as prostitutes will appear under the name ‘Little Mix’. I turn away because they make me feel a little uneasy, and head for the turnstiles.
Inside the south stand I take in the aroma of breeze blocks and urinal deodorizer blocks and for reasons I cannot explain decide to buy a sausage roll (£2.30). It’s a decision I begin to regret as I peel the pastry from its plastic wrapper which has turned brittle in the microwave. The wrapper tells me that what I am about to eat has a ‘pork-based filling’, a phrase which worries me slightly. The list of ingredients reveals a pork content of just OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA18%. On the front of the wrapper it says “…don’t compromise”; as the slimy sausage roll slides down inside me I realise that it’s too late.
Feeling disappointed with myself I take up my seat and the game begins with Port Vale kicking towards Colchester town centre with the McDonald’s across the other side of the A12 at their backs; they are wearing an all-black kit with narrow yellow and white stripes running down from the armpit; Colchester wear their usual blue and white stripes with white shorts. PortOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Vale’s kit is rather nasty. A new layer of disappointment is added as the game unfolds not into a beautiful flower but into a scrunched up mess. A win could see Colchester step into the top six in the fourth division, whilst Port Vale are only four points above the relegation zone; so a Colchester win is expected. But neither side is very good, although Port Vale are slightly better than expected and Colchester far poorer.
The game and the pervading atmosphere are dull and grey like the weather. The man sitting in front me who has a very full head of grey hair mildly vents his frustration with a slightly camp flick of his wrist as referee Mr Kinseley gives Port Vale a free-kick. “but he got the ball “ the grey–haired man opines. Behind me two men talk about things other than what is unravelling in front of us. As ever, one of them dominates the conversation. “I’ve got a feeling Braintree are at home ……..he’s got a very funny surname…..I watched this thing, it mighta been on Channel Five, about a bloke that built a lot of stuff in this country….Brunel, fuckin’ ‘ell, what a clever bloke…”
On the pitch Port Vale’s Marcus Harness stands out, not just because his first and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsurnames kind of rhyme, but because he runs around a lot to good effect and has a very bouncy, almost fluffy ponytail. Just after half past three a ball is lumped over the Port Vale defence, Sammie Szmodics runs onto it and kicks it beyond the appropriately named Ryan Boot in the Port Vale goal. It’s a bit of a surprise, but more importantly it’s a goal.
At half-time I step outside the back door with the smokers and eat the last of a box of Fairtrade cereal bars that has lasted me several months. Whilst some spectators smoke and top up with fast food at the burger van outside the stadium I browse through the programme; it’s not very interesting today, but I enjoy reading the names of the Colchester United squad; my favourites are Doug Loft, Kane Vincent-Young and Rene Gilmartin. To read out a team containing such names would be something like poetry.
The grey afternoon gets darker as the sun goes down and the second half begins. Hopes of there having been a stirring half-time team talk which has inspired the players toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA produce anything approaching entertaining football are soon dashed, this is dull. Eddie the Eagle peers on glumly through his huge startled eyes, wearing a red coat edged in white. I assume this is Eddie‘s sartorial nod to St Nicholas, but in fact he looks more like a bizarrely colourful Teddy boy or perhaps he is just wearing his dressing gown.
Port Vale are Colchester’s equals today and with a quarter of an hour left Marcus Harness scores the equalising goal with a glancing header. For the first time the small band of away supporters can be heard,” Vay-al, Vay-al” they chant, once or twice. Five minutes of added-on time raise hopes that Colchester can re-establish their lead, but they don’t. With the final whistle I am up quickly and on my way to the bus stop. This seems like a wasted afternoon; a wasted £17.50. But may be football is like Star Wars; shite, but you can’t not go in case you miss out on something.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Ipswich Town 2 Reading 0

It’s another cold, clear, cold, bright and cold December day. Today is Ipswich Town’s last home game before Christmas. As I walk to the railway station I fear breathing too deeply because that can cause a heart attack in a man of my age. But I enjoy the pale blue sky, decked with fuzzy white lines like a somewhat anaemic Mark Rothko canvas. It’s odd how the noxious, condensed exhaust fumes from jet airliners can be beautiful.
At the railway station a small dark haired and excitable man is shouting into his mobile phone; he’ll be ‘there’ about 1.30 apparently because the train is running late; with his phone call over, he proceeds to laugh girlishly and talk loudly to a man with a fashionable haircut and beard and a checked grey coat. A third man arrives wearing a Rupert Bear scarf and I can’t shake them off as they board the same carriage as me when the train arrives eight minutes late. On the train another man asks me if this train stops at Manningtree “Er yes, yes it does” I tell him, growing in confidence through the course of my short sentence. The excitable man is talking loudly to Rupert Bear; he squints because the sun is shining into his eyes, which makes him look worried as if he expects Rupert Bear to tell him some bad news; Badger Bill has been gassed.
Approaching Ipswich the train stops and a bored and world-weary sounding driver informs us that a train has broken down so another train has had to return to Ipswich and as a result there is no room in Ipswich station for our train. It’s like the Christmas story all over again; if there is a pregnant woman on this train her child might have to be born in a railway cutting. But this doesn’t come to pass and a slow descent into Ipswich precedes an amusing apology from our driver who sounds ready to cut his wrists as he tells of “…strange things happening and trains breaking down all around us as we continued on our course” before wishing us joy in whatever we are doing this afternoon.
It’s about twenty to two and the train has arrived a good fifteen minutes late. Leaving the station and crossing the road outside, a strange looking man in Ipswich Town shirt, tracky bottoms and a huge coat that looks like a bivouac breaks into a run. Time is less pressing for me so I simply stride purposefully across the bridge opposite the station and on towards Portman Road. On the opening day of the season the lampposts on the bridge were adorned with blue banners in support of the Town, but today they are bare andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA skeletal like the winter trees, as if the banners fell with the autumn leaves. In Portman Road the turnstiles are open; a man eats a banana, people queue for burgers, stewards crowd around the ‘Search Dog’ who barks, some very ordinary looking people enter the Legends Bar and Hall of Fame and the six-wheeled Reading team bus sits secure behind sturdy steel gates, looking like a cross between a juggernaut and a 1950’s Cadillac. Behind the North (Sir Bobby Robson) stand The Salvation Army band take five. Competing fast food stands try to attract custom with staff dressed up as St Nicholas and as some rather conspiratorial looking elves. There are signs on the back of the North Stand directing the way to the ‘Fanzone’, arrows point skywards suggesting a heavenly place, but I know it’s just a big tent on the practice pitch, serving insipid Greene King beer. I would love to use the ‘Fanzone’, but my good taste won’t allow me.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


As I head on beyond the stadium the Salvation Army strike up, delivering a rendition of one of the most joyless of all Christmas carols, Once in Royal David’s City; probably a Town supporters’ favourite. As ever I soon arrive at St Jude’s Tavern and today take solace in a pint of the “Football Special”, St Jude’s Elderflower (£2), which happily does not smell like elderflowers, but is nevertheless light and slightly floral. The pub is busier today because much of the population seem to rediscover pubs near Christmas, which is

 

a bit annoying for us all year round pub users who enjoy a quiet drink. Having consumed my first pint I return to the bar (where else?) for a second. A full-faced man who has just been served is picking up a glass of a dark looking beer, I ask him what it is; he doesn’t know. I fancy something dark, because it’s winter, something that tastes like Christmas pudding. I ask the barman for a dark beer and in exchange for £3.40 he brings me what he says is a new amber beer from Nethergate brewery, but it’s quite a dark amber and full of flavour. I sit at a small round table and look about the bar full of mostly men, middle-aged and older. In front of me stands a man in a ‘retro-style’ Reading shirt; he seems to be listening to a pod-cast through ear phones, either that or he is profoundly deaf, it’s difficult to tell nowadays. His shirt has a rather attractive badge that features three trees and I ask him if these trees are the elms of Reading’s former Elm Park ground; it turns out they are. We talk more, reminiscing about Elm Park and moving onto our dislike of modern football and not really wanting our respective teams to get promotion. He tells me that Reading currently play a sort of ‘anti-football’ whereby they just pass it around endlessly across the back four. I say that Ipswich let the opposition have the ball and play on the break, and on the basis of this he predicts that Ipswich will win. This Reading fan lives in Brighton and doesn’t go to home games, but just picks away trips that appeal to him, and Ipswich is such a trip. He says he likes Portman Road, knows there is good beer here and now that Ipswich Town have dropped the away tickets to a sensible price (£24 instead of £40) that’s enough. I feel pleased that an away supporter likes to come to Ipswich, and he’s right, we are truly blessed in Ipswich, it is fine town with a perfectly situated football stadium, close to both the railway station and the town centre; possibly the best located football ground in the whole of Britain.
Eager to avoid strange men who come up and talk to you about your shirt, the Reading supporter sups his beer and leaves, but not before we shake hands and wish each other well; now alone I sit down to finish my dark amber beer. One of the bunch of older blokes on the next table starts to talk to me; we discuss school reunions, Harvey’s brewery of Lewes and Whitehawk football club, which we agree is like having a Chantry football club in Ipswich, although to our shame we strangely forget Whitton United.
I seem to have crammed a lot into my 45 minutes in the pub today. Outside the cold air is invigorating and it’s a lovely walk down Portman Road, with the floodlights revealing themselves one by one as I draw closer to the ground. The ‘Turnstile Blue’ fanzine sellers on the corner in front of Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue are waving fanzines about enthusiastically, and selling some too. I always buy a copy, although it can be a bit sanctimonious and earnest at times, with too few articles about footballers’ haircuts. TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cobbold stand is looking good today, it’s row of white painted concrete struts producing a fine repetitive rhythm along the street, above people waiting, looking at their watches and heading for the turnstiles where there are no queues today.
Inside the ground I buy a programme (£3) and drain my bladder, then go to my seat. The teams are on the pitch and Reading kick-off towards the Sir Bobby Robson (North) stand wearing orange hi-vis and black shorts; they look like they should be out gritting the roads of Berkshire on a day like today, not playing football. In the third minute Ipswich add to the possibility that we are watching Ipswich Town v Berkshire County Council Highways Department by scoring easily with their first attack, Callum Connolly placing the ball inside Italian Vito Mannone’s near post. Thereafter, Reading just pass the ball amongst themselves, as the Reading fan in the pub had forecast, and then they do it some more. Despite being a goal ahead the Portman Road crowd are as quiet as ever; they probably get more animated watching Strictly Come Dancing on the telly than they do here. As all visiting fans do, the Reading fans ask through the medium of la donna e mobile from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto if this is a library. Arts Council money is never wasted. Reading do succeed in missing a few opportunities to score and Ipswich are having to defend, but then a bit before half past three a corner is headed on and Joe Garner heads a second goal. It’s as if someone has tried to leave the library without checking their book out and the alarms have gone off. But the excitement is temporary and Reading keep passing the ball.
Half-time comes as a relief for the ball which has visibly shrunk with all that constant Reading passing. Having used the toilet facilities I take a wander about; down on theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA concourse beneath the stand strings of lights dangle from above as Ipswich Town embraces the festive season. I eat a Fairtrade cereal bar, which I brought with me from home, because the football club does not sell such things. On the pitch a small brass band play Christmas carols. I flick through the programme in which club captain Luke OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChambers tells us that “You never know in life what is just around the corner. What grenade can hit you”. He goes on to add “I think most people would have taken where we are if it was offered to us at the start of the season, especially with the injuries we’ve had”. It makes me think “Blimey, shrapnel wounds”. Also in the programme there is a feature on Town’s Grant Ward who I like to confuse with the twentieth century American artist Grant Wood, famous for American Gothic. Grant Wood attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and wonderfully the article tells us that Grant Ward played for Chicago Fire in the MLS. Incidentally, why did the Americans name a football club after a disaster that befell the city? It’s like the Japanese having a club called Hiroshima Bomb.
I decide to change seats for the second half and go to the other side of the goal and nearer the pitch to join super-fan Phil who never misses a game. I speak with Pat, the secretary of the Clacton-On-Sea branch of the supporters club who sits a couple of rows behind Phil; apparently only sixteen people have travelled on the supporters’ bus from Clacton today. She tells me how a fastidious female steward always carefully searches her bag each week as she enters the stadium, whilst people in big coats are not even patted down. There are no security searches entering the ground from Portman Road, just signs saying there will be. Pat asked the steward what she was looking for; the answer was “wires”. Marcus Evans is probably fearful of being tapped but Pat now carries her grenades on a belt under her coat; she’s been coming to Portman Road since the 1960’s.
It’s dark now and the floodlights shine through the translucent roof of the stand above

 

me. Being closer to the pitch lends this position an atmosphere not present at the back of the stand. In front of us is the disabled supporters enclosure and a boy with Downs Syndrome puts everyone to shame with his enthusiastic shouts and clapping; he gets what this being a football fan is about.
The second half is oddly compelling given that Reading continue to pass the ball ceaselessly but pointlessly and Ipswich just give the ball back to them whenever they win it. On 52 minutes Reading’s Paul McShane is booked and  I recall one of several reasons why I never liked Hi-de-hi. Reading are hopelessly ineffective; Bart Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal catches or punches away several crosses, but doesn’t have a shot to save. The highlight of the half is the 67th minute applause for Dick Murphy, the kitman and caretaker at the club academy who died during the week. A piece in the programme pays tribute to Dick who is described as a “loyal servant of the Blues”. I had never heard of Dick Murphy before today and think it’s an awful shame I have now only heard of him because he is dead.
There is a kind of tension about the second half as the home fans wonder if Town will hold on without actually touching the ball which gives the game its name. Occasionally this tension translates into some crowd noise; based on the experience of the first half if Town do manage to keep the ball long enough to make four or five passes they could score again. It fools us all into thinking we’re being entertained.
Despite five minutes of added on time for a number of real and imagined injuries the match doesn’t seem to drag on and at about five minutes to five referee Mr Bankes closes proceedings in the customary shrill manner.  As the stands empty a serious looking steward wearing a large head set watches on; I like to think he’s listening to the classified results.   It’s been a strangely enjoyable afternoon, possibly only because Town have won; the football was largely forgettable.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Coggeshall Town 6 Fakenham Town 1

 

If I had remained completely true to my existential, celebrate-the-mundane self, this piece might be entitled “Halstead Town versus Swaffham Town match postponed due to a frozen pitch” and would be a description of how I came to follow Halstead Town football club on Twitter and discovered that the match I had intended to watch this afternoon would not take place.  It would not have been a long piece and I might even have just written it.  But games get postponed and life goes on and so I looked for another game to watch and the nearest one to my home address is in West Street, Coggeshall, also known as ‘The Crops’, although I will be disappointed to discover that the sign announcing that no longer adorns the side of the changing rooms.

It is a cold, still December day; not bitterly cold, more penetratingly cold, although my hearty optimism and excitement at the thought of going to a match easily quench the thought of getting a little chilly as I set out on the three mile drive from my house.  Diving off the A120 into Coggeshall I motor past the Co-op where later I will buy some corned beef, milk, beer, Muscovado sugar and dairy free chocolate, the latter being for my dairy intolerant spouse. In the centre of town a bus is turning right to head past the ground on its way to Braintree; a pang of guilt hits me; I could have used public transport, there is a bus stop at the bottom of my garden; but then I couldn’t have popped into the Co-op.  Emerging from down-town Coggeshall and its fine collection of timber-framed buildings, the football ground is on the left and I park up at the front of the site taking care not to back my Citroen C3 into an Audi behind me, despite my dislike of ostentatious automobiles.

There seem to be few if any people heading towards Coggeshall Town football ground this afternoon, although it is barely twenty to three, and entering the ship-lap clad wooden turnstile block is a lonely experience.  But the turnstile operator is a cheery fellow and   greets me like a long lost friend, almost to the extent that I want to ask, “Do I know you?”, but that would seem a bit rude and to be honest I have a very poor memory for faces. I join in with the bonhomie therefore and then offer a fresh ten pound note for the admission and a programme (£1). “Are you, are you…….er, normal?” asks my new friend clearly struggling desperately for the right words to ask if I might qualify for the concessionary price.   “Yes, I‘m normal” I say hopefully, understanding that he means I pay the full price (£6).  He apologises, explaining that some people get upset if you ask them for the full price when they qualify for the concession because they are old bastards.  I reply that I understand, and I do.   The bloke at the turnstile goes on to tell me that the clubhouse is open and so is the tea bar at the side; he is not  just a turnstile operator he’s a concierge.

Having paid my entrance money I linger just beyond the turnstile taking in the view of the pitch and countryside beyond from the concrete path that leads to the club house.  It’s a beautiful sight.  I move on and recovering from the disappointment that ‘The Crops’ sign is no longer on the side of the changing rooms I find that the clubhouse has been renovated since I was last here, the exterior having been covered in modish cladding and there are glass doors adorned with the club crest; the interior is updated in similar fashionable materials, there is also an area of decking outside; it all seems a bit like a holiday village rather than a football ground, but then I grew up in the 1960’s and fondly recall pubs having outside toilets, as did my grandmother’s council house.  Stepping outside again I explore the low stand behind the goal and look at the pitch side

advertisement hoardings; it seems that everywhere I go an undertaker sponsors the local club.  I am also impressed that there is an advertisement for a maker of sash windows; no doubt a busy man given Coggeshall’s many old buildings.  I then meet my next door neighbour’s son Sam who is here with a bunch of mates from school; he tells me his dad his here too and he’s not having me on.  Paul my neighbour is enjoying a hot drink and after watching the teams file down on to the pitch and saying hello to a man called James, who plays guitar and used to work for Crouch Vale brewery, I join him as we wait for the first half to begin.   As the teams line up and the coaches occupy their benches, he tells me that one of the track-suited blokes in the dug-out is Ollie Murs, who I understand is a singer, popular with modern day teeny boppers.   I’m sure he is no Johnny Hallyday nevertheless.  Repose en paix Johnny.

Coggeshall kick off the game in the general direction of Braintree, wearing red and black striped shirts with back shorts whilst their guests from faraway Fakenham wear white shirts and blue shorts and have the name Macron above the numbers on the backs, sadly not because they all share the surname of the French president but because the shirts are manufactured by a company called Macron. Coggeshall look very much like the home team, by which I mean they dominate the attacking play, which is no surprise given that they are second in the league table and Fakenham fourth from bottom.  My neighbour tells me that Coggeshall’s star striker gets £300 a week and £50 a goal; I have no way of knowing if this is true, but if it is it doesn’t seem right or fair in a league in which most clubs struggle to attract an average crowd of one-hundred; but apparently he‘s not playing today anyway.

The early part of the game is not brilliant to watch and I am as interested by the sky, the trees,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA an old man poking his head into the tea bar and the lads lined up behind the Fakenham goal as I am by what happens on the pitch; my neighbour refers to the lads behind the goal as ‘herberts’, doubtless because his son is amongst them, although his son’s name is Sam.  Coggeshall ought to score because they clearly have the better players, but at about twenty minutes past three a cross drops at the far post and the ball is side-footed high into the Coggeshall goal net to give ‘The Ghosts’, for that is their nickname, an unexpected lead.  Predictably perhaps the goal shames Coggeshall into action and within five minutes they equalise; an unchallenged header drifting past the static goalkeeper and inside the post.  Thereafter Coggeshall dominate and play some pretty passing football, but ultimately a lack of true team play prevents them from registering the goals their superior ability suggests they should score.  I take a walk around the pitch seeking a different perspective.  Fakenham move forward and from behind the Coggeshall goal I overhear a conversation between Coggeshall’s number two, a big man with blond highlights in his already blond hair and the goalkeeper: “ I nearly put it out for a fucking corner” says the full-back “ I Know, fuck me” Says the goal keeper.   Half-time arrives and the score is 1-1.

I head to the tea-bar and buy a pounds worth of tea in the hope that it will fortify me against the deepening chill.  Where I have not worn my gloves in order to snap photos, my hands now feel like pins are being driven beneath my finger nails.  The cold has recognised that my thermal socks are a worthy opponent and has by-passed them to go up my trouser leg beyond the top of the socks to penetrate my shin bones.  My neighbour eats an enormous sausage roll (£3.50) that Captain Scott would have coveted and the tea possibly saves my life or at least prevents frost-bite.  I check the half-time scores and am disappointed by the news from Middlesbrough that Ipswich are losing 1-0, although the fact that the Danish, former Toulouse striker  Martin Braithwaite scored the goal, softens the blow because I spotted him as a talent a few years ago,

Half-time over, I take up a seat in the low main stand because my back is aching and also because, frankly, I sometimes enjoy my own company.   To my right five blokes in their late sixties or seventies discuss the score. One of them, a jowly man wearing a bobble hat is adamant that the score is 2-1and the others don’t seem confident enough in the memory of their own observations to tell him he is wrong.  Eventually, a young woman wearing large glasses confirms that the score is 1-1 and I back her up.  Oddly, within seconds, Coggeshall score a second goal to really make the score 2-1 and then quickly add a third as Fakenham fail to successfully make the transition from the dressing room to the pitch.

With not an hour gone, the game is as good as won for Coggeshall, nickname The Seedgrowers, which gives the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the disappearing daylight.  A bank of cloud on the horizon denies us a spectacular sunset but instead givesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the appearance of a mountain range looming up in the distance like the Pyrenees over Languedoc.  Whilst waiting for a fourth Coggeshall goal the old blokes behind me discuss the imminent changes to the fifth and sixth steps of the non-league pyramid and I ponder the fact that Coggeshall’s number eleven appears to have one white leg and one black leg.  This is no doubt due to a knee brace, but it leads me to imagine the implications of mixed race people literally being half black and half white.   The number eleven is a busy, energetic little player but embarrasses himself by finding space on the flank and calling to a team mate with the ball “Feed me, feed me”.  I am reminded of the plant in the ”Little Shop of Horrors”, but the number eleven has the good grace to glance into the crowd looking a little embarrassed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbove the glow of the floodlights the sky is midnight blue, but It’s only just gone twenty past four.  Coggeshall add a fourth goal, and then at four-thirty the Seedgrowers’ number ten scores the best goal of the game as he lofts the ball in a graceful arc over the goalkeeper from just outside the penalty area.   Fakenham respond with some substitutions and bring on a large bald man who looks like a Turkish wrestler and two much slimmer and younger players, one of whom looks like his shirt number is the same as his age, fourteen.   Despite there being no doubt about the eventual result, the match remains competitive, which manifests itself in sustained shouts and calls amongst the players which ring out coarsely in the cold winter air.   There are also some very entertaining tackles, which the frighteningly clean-cut referee Mr Farmer rewards with yellow cards, but they give the crowd and players something to bray about.  It’s now five minutes to five and everyone is thinking about going home as a low cross finds the Coggeshall number ten Ross Wall free at the far post and the ball is slammed low into the net, thumping the board behind the goal with the hollow thud more usually heard when the ball misses the goal and hits the advertising hoardings; I find it slightly disorientating, but heck, it’s 6-1 and Ross Wall has a hat-trick.

Mr Farmer soon blows his whistle for the last time today and a sated crowd of 108 disperse into the club house or out into the car park and the early evening.  Having zig-zagged my way through the emptying seats of the stand I pause and speak again with Jimmy who is now with his wife, and then head for the Co-op.

Ipswich Town 4 Nottingham Forest 2

It’s a beautiful walk to the railway station today. Meteorologically speaking winter began only yesterday, but today is a fine winter’s day, cold, bright and clear with a pale blue sky. Across the bare, brown, damp fields seagulls float on the gentlest breeze and in the distance a sparrowhawk hovers, there is a smudge of blue-grey cloud on the horizon.
At the railway station I meet up with a friend whose partner’s parents had, for his birthday, bought him a ‘bundle’ of six tickets for matches at Portman Road between now and the end of the season. Today’s match is the first of ‘the bundle’. A good few people board the train to Ipswich and some of them might even be going to the match like us. It’s still bright and clear as the train pulls into Ipswich pleasingly ahead of schedule. The plaza in front of the station makes for an attractive welcome to Ipswich and crossing the bridge over the river towards the town the cold and clear blue sky lend the town a feel of Scandinavia, I imagine we’re off to watch Malmo FF or GIF Sundsvall or perhaps this is an unseen episode of The Bridge.
In Portman Road it’s not yet one-thirty, a line of blokes in hi-vis jackets, one of them mysteriously manoeuvring a wheelie bin, insert metal bollards to close the road off from traffic.

Already some people are here waiting for the turnstiles to open, a woman has parked her shopping back in one entrance as if to reserve her place at the head of any possible queue. Seemingly oblivious of his hi-vis coat, a steward inside the ground looks like he isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA trying to hide behind the metal gates. The search dog is here searching for whatever it is that ‘the authorities’ fear people might smuggle into a mid-table, second division football fixture. There is a cameraman filming people who are just standing about, waiting. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy accomplice heads for the ticket office to ‘upgrade’ his tickets. Because his partner’s father is over 65 the bundle of tickets he bought turn out to be for an over 65 too, but my accomplice, who I will call Roly because I always liked that poodle in Eastenders and it is his name, is only forty. Predictably upgrading the tickets is not simple and ‘the system’ won’t allow it today. A complimentary ticket is issued for today’s game but the guy in the ticket office takes the other five tickets and tells Roly to phone on Monday to sort it out. Like a fool Roly agrees to this and doesn’t even get a receipt. Roly has a bad feeling about this.
St Jude’s Tavern is host to the usual selection of ageing Town supporters and some slightly younger ones. We drink pints of today’s Match Day Special, which is Cliff Quay Anchor bitter (£2.00 a pint) and then my accomplice has another pint of Anchor, whilst I have a pint of Shortts Farm Skiffle (£3.40). Roly gives me a tenner he has owed me since the end of October, I feel guilty for having had to remind him about it. Because I am older than him I feel somehow like I’ve bullied him out his school dinner money. We discuss Ipswich Town and reminisce about fat players and their regrettable absence from modern professional football. Roly suggests that Ipswich’s last fat player was Ryan Stevenson, who in 2012 was signed from Hearts of Midlothian, played just eleven times, but scored the goal of the season. I had forgotten all about him, but then I’m not some sort of football nerd.
We head off to Portman Road a little bit earlier than I would usually depart because Roly wishes to buy a burger and in the car park behind the Sir Bobby Robson stand he does. His cheeseburger costs £4.00 and whilst he stands and folds it into his face I tell him of the food stand behind the Tribune Nord at Nice where the food is prepared by a short order cook and the burgers come with salad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Back in Portman Road a man buys a programme from one of the kiosks which looks like it would make a good Tardis. There are short queues at the turnstiles. A group of Nottingham Forest fans are having their picture taken in front of the statue of Sir Bobby Robson; I like to see away fans enjoying their day out and it’s satisfying to think that Ipswich has something people want to be photographed in front of. Inside the ground a man in a red coat sells Golden Goal tickets almost apologetically and people queue for last minute ‘match essentials’.
Bored with my usual seat and the quiet brooding people who populate the seats around it, today I decide once again to sit next to the man called Phil who never misses a game. Phil’s seat is near the front of the stand in a row, which apart from Phil and a couple at the far end is completely empty. Phil has a bit of a cough today and is wrapped up well against the chill of the afternoon. The view of the intricacies of the match isn’t the best from here but the stands tower above us and there is a sense of occasion and almost of being a part of it. Bluey the mascot walks past just a few feet away pitchside, and if IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA were to shout abuse at him he would probably hear me, but of course I don’t, even though he looks more like a baby’s soft toy than a mascot to rally the people of Ipswich into raucous support of their team.
After the usual pleasantries, Nottingham kick-off the match. The scene looks like a basic Subbuteo set with one team in red and one in blue; sitting almost behind the Nottingham Forest goal I wish I could move their goalkeeper with a long stick. It’s a full fifty seconds before Ipswich get a touch of the ball, but when they do have it they make much more efficient use of it than Nottingham and after only seven minutes Ipswich score. Formerly beloved of Ipswich supporters for his goal scoring prowess, 34 year old Daryl Murphy very kindly commits a foul and the free-kick ultimately results in the satisfyingly alliterative but on-loan Callum Connolly scoring.
Twenty minutes pass and it’s not a bad game, probably because Ipswich are winning, but as ever the crowd aren’t really in celebratory mood. There are a few muffled chants rolling down the pitch from the lower tier of the stand formerly known as the North Stand but the majority are quiet. The 1,224 Nottingham Forest fans aren’t much noisier and I wonder if this a symptom of clubs whose best days were thirty five years ago, have the supporters just lost heart in the intervening years?
Nottingham Forest dominate possession and nearly score and then at about half past three they do score, from a precisely flighted free-kick by the wooden sounding Kieran Dowell; the beautiful game lives in its careful geometry. Eight minutes later and there is more beauty as Ipswich move the ball swiftly from one end of the field to the other and into the Nottingham goal off the head of Dominic Iorfa. In the outfall from the goal a steward approaches me and asks me to stop taking photographs, I ask why and he tells me I am not allowed to, which seems odd given all the mobile phones people are taking pictures with all around the ground. Phil is surprised, he thought the steward would caution me for being too noisy; I have been blowing a sort of sound-a-like klaxon which I bought last May from the club shop of Racing Club Lens in France. Feeling like a plane spotter in North Korea and pondering over the location of the local Gulag I then witness another beautiful goal as Nottingham equalise for a second time, this time with a volley from an acute angle by a man whose name sounds like that of an erstwhile pub chain spoken in a West Midlands accent, Tyler Walker.
Half-time soon follows and I speak with the steward and his supervisor. Photography in Premier League, Football League and Scottish League grounds is restricted to licence holders who pay for the rights to it, so in theory individuals are not permitted to take photographs with their mobile phones unless licenced, but obviously they do. The supervisor admitted that the club would not stop people taking photos with mobile phones; I was using a camera with an automatic zoom lens. Apparently Norwich City stop people taking pictures with mobile phones; it’s nice to know that Norwich City are even more mean-spirited and small-minded than Ipswich. This is all about the protection of intellectual property, but you have to ask where is the harm in individuals taking photographs at a football match. Football is supposedly the people’s game; the football authorities in their greed are simply selling us back our own game; it’s a very good reason to not watch the professional leagues at all. The revolution will not be televised.
Darkness falls and although the floodlights have been on since kick-off their glow is now visible against the night sky. Ipswich score only eight minutes into the new half as Martyn Waghorn robs a Nottingham defender and strikes the ball across the goalkeeper into the net and fourteen minutes later the Nottingham defence takes on the properties of the lace for which the city was once known and through one of the holes Bersant Celina scores from close range. Nottingham Forest do not score. Phil and I discuss whether the Nottingham Forest number 24 David Vaughan is Archie Gemmill, mainly because he has a receding hairline. The crowd make a little noise intermittently, but not much and despite a late rattling of the Ipswich cross bar by a Daryl Murphy header, which is then cleared off the goal line, it’s a fairly comfortable win for Ipswich.
The sun is long gone from the winter sky and it’s now quite cold as referee, Darren Bond, blows his whistle for the final time and having applauded the team sixteen thousand, eight hundred and eight of us disperse into the December night. It’s been a lovely winter’s day, the team I support has won, I’ve seen six beautiful goals, but I cannot be happy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.