It is Friday and at last after four consecutive games at Portman Road, the chance to enjoy the relaxed, happy atmosphere of local non-league football and the associated audible swearing from the players and coaches. It’s a typically cold winter’s evening and just a short drive to Coggeshall from my house. The streets of Coggeshall are quiet and dark, but the fluorescent light of the local Co-op shines like a beacon drawing me in to buy dairy-free white chocolate for dairy intolerant Mrs Brooks, who is unable to come out on a cold night like tonight because her asthma won’t allow it. I’d hate to miss the game because I was stuck in the back of an ambulance with her; in sickness and in health etc.
Back on the road the narrow streets of Coggeshall are suddenly busy with traffic coming in the opposite direction so progress is slow, but at length I turn into the rough car park where a sizeable collection of automobiles is bathed in the soft light spilling out beyond the ‘stadium’ from the floodlights. Football in the evening is all about the lights.
There is a queue at the turnstile, not really because of large numbers of people wanting to get in but more because the fella on the gate likes to have a chat with everyone and entreat them to ‘enjoy the match’; he has a beer and a fag on the go and says it’s nice to see me again as I hand over a tenner and the odd 50p to cover the £6 entry and £1.50 programme and already I feel pleased to be here.
Just inside the stadium tonight a local Nimby group called PAIN (Parishes Against Incinerator) have a table set up and are collecting signatures from anyone wanting to object to plans to build an incinerator at nearby Rivenhall. Seeing as Rivenhall straddles the river of carbon monoxide and diesel particulates that is the A12 my initial reaction is that a little ‘cleaned up’ smoke from a very tall chimney would be rather lovely by comparison and it seems preferable to landfill, but I don’t know the full facts; I don’t sign up but take a page of tightly typed A4 to learn more.
Heading along the path towards the clubhouse I meet four Wivenhoe fans I know; four of the self-styled SOBS (Sad Old Bastards) who have followed ‘The Dragons’ through thin and thin since the 1990’s. One of them jokes about coming to visit the home of one of the nouveau-riche of non-league. These guys don’t care overly that Wivenhoe are bottom of the league with a goal difference of minus 66 after 30 games (Coggeshall are fourth with a goal difference of plus 66 after 26 games), they just like football and having a good time watching it; I see them as Messiahs, placed on earth to show supporters of professional clubs the error of their football supporting ways. Further along the path I meet Paul my next door neighbour and then speak with Miguel, brother of Ipswich Town’s Tristan Nydam and a player and youth coach for Wivenhoe.
The clubhouse is busy and people stand around by the changing rooms drinking tea,
coffee and beer and scoffing sausage rolls, waiting for the teams to emerge from the ship-lap clad changing rooms. I look at the team sheet, pinned to the outside wall. I like the names Ross de Brick and Kyan Gulliver who, along with Gary C Birdett, sound like they might have been in a 1960’s American ‘garage’ band. Amusingly, long serving Wivenhoe
centre-half Tim Dennis has been re-named on the team sheet as Dennis Timothy.
It is 7.45 and the game begins with Coggeshall in their red and black striped shorts and black shorts kicking towards the clubhouse; Wivenhoe are in all blue. It’s all quite keenly contested but Coggeshall are clearly the more talented side and just before 8 o’clock number seven Tom Monk hooks a shot into the top corner of the Wivenhoe goal from about 20 metres. I stand on the grassy bank that looks down on the pitch with Jonny, one of the SOBS; we talk about football and Jonny tells me about an interesting book he has read called The Chimp Paradox which is about how our minds work. Jonny’s advice is to get a copy and rip out about the first thirty pages, read them and throw the rest away because it gets repetitive after that. Twenty-four minutes of the game have passed and ‘The Seedgrowers’ number nine, Nnamdi Nwatchuku shoots across the Wivenhoe goalkeeper from a narrowish angle to put Coggeshall 2-0 up. .Six minutes later Nnamdi scores again; the most spectacular goal of the night, a shot from 20 metres-odd into the top right hand corner of the goal. Seven minutes after that and Coggeshall score a fourth goal and Jonny and I have no need for a telescope as we get a perfect view of a free-kick, which is swept over the defensive wall and just inside the far post by number eight Conor Hubble.
Half-time comes and I join the queue for a pounds worth of tea. “Man United are winning 1-0” says a bloke in front of me to his ponytailed friend. “Fuck, it’s Cup weekend innit” says the ponytail. The bloke in front of me gets a Twix and the teams are returning to the pitch just as I get my tea and add a splash of milk from a six pint plastic bottle of Cravendale. The girl behind me in the queue asks “Can I get a tea and a coffee?” That’s an odd use of English I think to myself. If I was the young girl in the tea bar I think I would reply that she can have a tea and coffee, but I will get them for her. I don’t often think about being a young girl in a tea bar, but know that the girl in this tea bar needs some help at half-time because there is still a queue for teas and sausage rolls
Wivenhoe have a substitute on for the second half, but within five minutes they are five-nil down as Coggeshall substitute Aaron Cosgrove scores from not too far out at an oblique angle. I am now standing with Bob and Rich’, two more SOBS who I know from my own days watching Wivenhoe, but then I wander off to talk to Paul my next door neighbour and just watch the game from different perspectives, because I can. Behind the goal that backs on to the car park a group of six or seven nine or ten year old girls muck about and do handstands, they’re here to see teeny bopper heart throb Olly Murs, who is on the Coggeshall bench but not named as a substitute; his uncle runs the place.
Despite being second best by some way, some of the Wivenhoe players seem very committed to the cause and they shout and remonstrate with one another as things inevitably go wrong; at one point it looks like they might come to blows. There is much waving of arms and shouting and I’m struck by the fact that the only word I can really make out from any of these animated conversations is “fuck”. One or two players also seem to spend quite a bit of time lying very still on the damp turf. Fortunately they
recover and play on, but it can’t be good for them. A Wivenhoe player lies prone in his own penalty area but the game carries on. When the Wivenhoe goalkeeper eventually gets to boot the ball into touch the game is stopped and Wivenhoe’s ginger-haired number four proceeds to berate the referee Mr Andrew Gray angrily; I am amazed he is not booked, many a more sensitive referee would have sent him off for such front.
One of the Wivenhoe defenders is a large man and although it is a cold night he appears to be sweating more than his team mates and his visibly damp shirt clings to his back unpleasantly. Wivenhoe rarely venture beyond their own half in any numbers but they are now managing to plug the gaps a bit more successfully, although Coggeshall still miss several ‘sitters’. At one point a Coggeshall shot smacks against the cross bar and rebounds down bouncing close to the goal line. None of the players appeal for a goal and play just carries on, but a couple of blokes stood up on the concrete path are adamant the ball was over the line; who needs goal line technology when there are a couple of blokes with beers stood forty yards away.
Surprisingly, no more goals are scored, although the contest is still kean with plenty of neat football played, particularly by Coggeshall who have looked very good tonight, despite not scoring as many goals as they often do against the weaker teams in the division. I have returned to stand with Rich’ and Bob, who has offered me a mint which I am sucking upon as Mr Gray blows his whistle for the final time. We hang around as the players leave the field and wait to have our photos taken with Olly Murs. I talk to another Paul who the programme says is Coggeshall’s Football Analyst/Media Manager before finally heading out into the car park. On my way out I wander through the now empty stand, erected in 1964, and look at the signs and foam padding, placed on the stanchions to protect the skulls of people taller than five foot four. Outside on the grassy bank there are rabbit droppings. I head into the car park with a car load of SOBS who are still in good spirits, we wish each other well ‘until the next time’. It’s been a good evening.