Bury Town 0 Waltham Abbey 0

It’s a thirty-five minute train ride from Ipswich to Bury St Edmunds (£7.20 return with a Gold Card) stopping at Needham Market, Stowmarket, Elmswell and Thurston, which for a 25 mile journey by train seems quite a long time. But whilst it’s not one of the fastest train rides in the world, it’s pleasant enough and there’s a busyness and hum about it due to the churn of passengers at each of the four stops.
I board the 1320 and sit at a table seat where just before departure I am joined by three blokes in their thirties who seem to be part of a larger group on a stag weekend, but they also seem to be Margate supporters heading the nine miles down the track to today’s match  at Needham Market; an interesting combination that beats paintballing in Dublin. At Stowmarket the train fills up again and pulls away from the station passing the Green Meadow ground, where later this afternoon Stowmarket Town will beat Ipswich Wanderers 3-0. Three well-turned out women in their forties apologetically take up the empty seats around me, asking if I mind if they sit there. “As long as you behave yourselves” I say and they reply that they can’t promise anything but they’ve only had one drink so far today. They’re heading for the bright lights of Bury St Edmunds to celebrate a birthday and they natter constantly throughout the journey about all of life’s trials. “Oooh, I can’t get on with public transport” says one “You know that striped carpet we’ve got” says another “ …had to have it re-laid twice, they got it all wrong on the stairs” . “I don’t go shopping anymore” says the third “Just do click and collect”. “Same with me” replies one “But I just buy baked potatoes”. Then one talks at length about the problems with parking outside her house and an intimidating little bloke in a Range Rover who’s got four cars and a bike, but there’s only him and his wife living there. She doesn’t know what they’re going to do when Annabel gets a car.
Arriving at five to two at Bury St Edmunds’ beautiful red brick railway station, theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA women alight and thank me for letting them sit with me, I tell them it was my pleasure, and it was. Stepping onto the platform I immediately breathe in the sweet smell of the local sugar beet factory, a smell that transports me back to the school playing fields of Ipswich in the 1970’s. It’s not exactly a pleasant smell because it’s thick and cloying, but it’s always at its strongest on clear, bright, cold days like today when the wind is in the east and the sky is a frigid blue, and for that reason I can’t help but like it. The sugar beet factory is a thing of beauty with its grey concrete silos and billowing trail of white steam belching and then dissipating into that blue sky. I feel glad to be alive, but it’ll pass. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Heading for the town centre I turn to admire the railway station with its pair of ‘minarets’ and then set-off along Northgate Street before turning into Cannon Street and stopping at the Old Cannon Brewery, hotel and bistro. Most of the people in here are eating and it doesnt have the ambience of a pre-match boozer, but I just have a pint of Black Pig (£3.50) and sit at a small table facing the shiny brewing vessels to read the football pages of the Bury Free Press. The headline story concerns Walsham le Willows FC who apparently are being threatened with relegation from the Eastern Counties Premier League if they don’t resolve some health and safety issues at their ground in Summer Lane. I worry why the League considers relegation would resolve the issue, unless the view is that in Division One some injury and possible death is to be expected.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA25601849627_0ba0724e26_oOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I wrestle with the idea of having another pint, but decide to head for Bury Town’s ground because it’s now twenty five past two and I’m not sure exactly how far it is or what delights await me at Ram Meadow. I am surprised at how quickly and easily I find the ground considering that I last came here in February 1989. The approach is across the adjacent municipal surface car park (£1.80 for three hours) and is not very imposing; there is no sense of arrival, just a close board wooden fence and three advert hoardings with a single gate. If there was a queue at the turnstile people could be mown down by small men in Range Rovers desperate to park.

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I pay my entrance money (£9) and step around the turnstile to stand in what looks like a queue to buy a programme (£2), but it’s not, it’s just old blokes talking; so I step around them explaining to the programme seller that I thought they were a queue. The layout of Ram Meadow is a lot like that of King’s Meadow in Sudbury with the main stand and club house on the west side. The club house at Ram Meadow is new and tacked onto the end of it is a conservatory which is the members’ lounge.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThrough the glass I can see people scoffing plates of boiled potatoes and pies. By the side of the conservatory is the club shop, it’s the sort of structure that the occupiers of suburban bungalows call a ‘garden room’. I love a club shop; this one is pedalling the usual shirts, scarves and woolly hats but also bears and dinosaurs in Bury Town t-shirts.I head for the bar.

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The club house at Ram Meadow is quite new having opened in September 2016; it’s a very plain building but I forgive this because there’s a hand pump on the bar, although the barmaid doesn’t know what it’s serving just that it isn’t what it says on the pump clip. I buy a pint (£3.40) and have pricked the barmaid’s curiosity; she has to find out what the beer is, but returns to say she’s none the wiser and the barrel just says SX SW Pale Ale. I take a seat at the side of the room near where the Bury Town Under 10’s are getting ready to be mascots; there is cake on a table and a mother stands with a plate of chips with a look of ‘do you want any more of these?” on her face.
Two blokes next to me are talking about the match. “So where is Waltham Abbey then?” asks one. “Down near Harlow by the M25” says the second, looking it up on his ‘phone. “They’re all fucking down there, these clubs” is the reply. They speak not in Suffolk accents but as though they really should know where Waltham Abbey is. The beer is good and is quickly gone so I step back out into the cold afternoon. It’s not long until kick-off so I think about where is going to be a good spot to watch the game. I wander back round to the corner of the ground by the turnstiles and the teams are just coming onto the pitch when a voice says “Allo Martin”. It’s Dave, the man with whom I used to write the ‘A Load of Cobbolds’ fanzine back in the 1990’s. In his day Dave was every bit as dedicated to watching Ipswich Town as ever-present Phil who never misses a game is now. I will be eternally jealous of Dave because in 1981 he was in a minibus that went to St Etienne to see Ipswich win 4-1 in Ipswich Town’s greatest performance ever. But Dave became disillusioned and did something about it, he stopped going. But Dave can’t give up football and now has a Bury Town season ticket.
Dave and I walk round to where he sits every week, in the Jimmy Rattle stand with two old codgers who like to just sit and moan. The Jimmy Rattle stand is a long low, multi-stanchioned structure with just a few rows of lovely, warm, wooden bench seats. A scaffolding tower adds interest in the centre, from where each match is filmed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The game begins with Waltham Abbey, in green and white hooped shirts and green shorts, kicking towards Bury St Edmunds cathedral and Bury Town, in all blue, kicking towards the sugar beet factory and its plume of white steam. If I had to choose ends, I’d choose the sugar beet factory.
The pitch is soft and muddy and the colourful kits and clear blue sky make a beautiful scene. Dave updates me on family life; his eldest daughter who I met as a toddler in 1992 is now head of history at a school in Cambridge; I remember her being able to say “We are top of the league; we are top of the league”. Dave says how his younger daughter is less academic and her idea of preparing for an exam was to do her make-up and hair. She has a boyfriend who plays for Bury Town. Dave likens his children to Lisa and Bart Simpson and clearly enjoys that they are so different.
Meanwhile, on the pitch the game is entertaining whilst being of rather poor quality in terms of skill and well organised football. My attention is mostly taken by a Waltham Abbey player who looks as if his kit is a size too large for himOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and the Bury right-back for whom the opposite is true. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bury are expected to win as they sit 10th in the Bostik League North Division table, whilst Waltham Abbey are 13th and have lost most of their last eight or nine games. Very little happens near the goals and most time is spent ploughing through the muddy turf of the congested midfield. But near the end of the half Waltham Abbey twice break free and although their number ten looks certain to score he contrarily hits each post and then a short while later another player carelessly boots a third good chance wide.
We buy a fifty-fifty draw ticket each (£1.00) from a lady called Maureen and the half soonOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ends. With half-time I return to the club house to catch up on the half-time scores, and to celebrate that Ipswich are winning I buy another pint of the mystery pale ale. With my beer in a plastic cup I am free to wander outside and explore, and as I do so my beer gets colder and colder as the sun sinks low in the west. At the sugar beet factory end of the ground is a an advertisement board for The Suffolk Pest Control Comp[any Ltd , which features a silhouette of a Suffolk Punch horse; I didn’t know OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthese animals were considered pests, but can well imagine that an infestation of them would be a bit of a bugger. But it does account for why the Suffolk Punch is a rare breed.
As the game resumes I visit the outside toilet, in which very weirdly I think I can detect a faint smell of Christmas pudding. I pass the ‘Home and Away Directors box’ and wonder if there are other TV Soap themed directors’ boxes around the country or whether this is the only one. I wander back past the clubhouse where the faces of men holding pint glasses peer out through the double glazing, watching the game from the warmth of an alcoholic haze. As with most non-league or local football, the crowd is mostly made up of middle-aged men and older, and the occasional dog.

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There should be more dogs at football matches.

The most passionate Bury fans have now re-located to the Cathedral end and pinned  25601783877_237ca2b248_o.jpgOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

their flags to the high quality close board wooden fence that encloses the ground. “BTFC. Suffolk Is Ours” boasts one flag somewhat incomprehensibly. It smacks of the same conceit that sees the town of Bury St Edmunds label itself “a jewel in the crown of Suffolk”.
Back on the Jimmy Rattle side of the ground I meet Andrew, a fellow public sector employee who is here with his young son who points out that the Waltham Abbey substitute has an interesting hairstyle. Indeed, he looks like he is from a  1970’sOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA discotheque and as we watch, the ball comes to him inside the Bury Town penalty area, he aims a kick and misses the ball completely.
By and by I return to sit again with Dave and the game carries on much as before, but Bury are the more dominant team now without ever really looking like scoring; it’s a lot like watching the Championship, but cheaper and more fun. We talk a little bit of politics and how even the Labour Party supporters are Tories in Bury St Edmunds. The game is drawing to a close and Bury hit a post, but and even before the three minutes of added on time is announced people are drifting away, beating the imagined rush of 274 people all simultaneously trying to get through the one little gate in that wooden fence. “Have you had enough entertainment for one afternoon?” asks Dave of the old boy who was sat next to him as toddles off home.
The three minutes elapse and I reflect that I have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment. I say good bye to Dave as I head once again to see if I can still smell Christmas pudding and Dave goes round the corner to pop in on his mother-in-law. Before I finally leave Ram Meadow I check on the full-time score at Preston where Ipswich have won. On the walk back to the railway station I phone my wife and as the camera pans away from my afternoon Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ can be heard.

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Ipswich Town 0 Cardiff City 1

 

Tonight I am looking forward to going to the football at Portman Road despite the pall of gloom that hangs over the place; a gloom which deepened on Sunday when a Norwich City goal in the last seven seconds of added on time fooled many Ipswich fans into thinking a decent result was a terrible one.   There’s a lot of blame and a lot of disinterest weighing the place down.  But what do I care, it’s five o’clock and one of the best things in life is to leave work and go directly to the pub and that’s exactly what I am doing, along with my accomplice for the first part of the evening Roly.

Darkness is imperceptibly surrounding us as we head along Constantine Road, Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Portman Road towards St Jude’s Tavern.  It’s cold and through the eerieOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA half-light a few tiny specks of very light sleet drift and fall and sparkle in a car headlight beam.  There is activity in the football ground as stewards arrive and are detailed off for their evening duties; Zero the sniffer dog arrives at the Constantine Road gate to the ground with his handler; Zero is sans-lead, which I guess for a working dog like him is like being in civvies.  I like to think of him having his own dressing room where he changes into collar and lead and perhaps prepares for the evening with a few exercises to clear his sinuses. In Portman Road the hot food stands set up a while ago and early diners stand nearby in ones and twos, basking in the beautiful, enticing fluorescent light, which falls out into the street and as ever make me think of the paintings of Edward Hopper.

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It’s not yet 5:20 when we rock up at Jude’s and there aren’t many drinkers here yet, just the few who are seemingly always here and think they are characters in Cheers.  Roly gets me a pint of Bearstown Best Bitter (£3.20) and has a pint of Priory Mild (£3.20) himself.  We sit in a corner near the door, a location Roly chooses, perhaps because of the tilting leather-bound chair which allows him to lean back and pose questions in the manner of a TV chat show host.  Roly has a show on Ipswich Community Radio and is used to audiences of less than ten. We talk a variety of nonsense, although Roly does most of the talking because he’s nothing if not loquacious, which is perhaps why he is on the wireless.  As we finish our pints and are about to get more beer and a pie each, who should walk in to the pub but ever-present Phil who never misses a match.  Attracted by tales of the Match Day Special (£2.50) in this very blog, Phil has decided to eschew the delights of the fanzone tonight and sample cheap beer in a proper pub where none of the beer, rather than all of it, bears the name Greene King.

After introductions and an explanation of Phil’s claim to fame, I eventually fetch a pie and a pint (£5.00) each for Roly and me. I have a pint of Nethergate Suffolk Bitter and a mince and onion pie, Roly has more Priory Mild and a steak and kidney pie; I tear open a sachet of red sauce, Roly has no sauce.  I return to our table to find Roly talking at length to Phil about the 1993/94 season, which could be the last time Phil missed a game, I don’t really know.  Time passes and I have a further pint, this time the Match Day Special (£2.50), which is St Jude’s Gainsborough.  Phil leaves for the ground before Roly and I, but by and by we also head to Portman Road; Roly is meeting a friend called Andrew, a public sector worker who lives in Bury St Edmunds.

Outside, the night time now surrounds us, but it’s very cold and the chill night air feels damp.  A fine mist shrouds the Portman Road floodlights creating a scene and an atmosphere far too spectacular and evocative for this mundane second division fixture, for which only 13,205 people will bother to leave their homes.  Roly, Andrew and I meet close to the statue of Sir Alf and try hard to be humourous.  I say that if we see a game half as good as the goalless draw against Burton Albion last Saturday week, I will be happy; how we laugh.  Roly and Andrew depart for the expensive seats in the East of England Co-operative stand leaving me to saunter down Portman Road and bask in the variety of light that shines from street lamps and windows, from over doorways and from the little white programme kiosks.

 

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There are two orange plastic cones behind the statue of Sir Bobby Robson, which in the shadows deceive the eye and look like there is cloth hanging off the back of his plinth.  Why are they there? Does Sir Bobby get down off his plinth in the middle of the night and dance around joyously with one on his head as he remembers victories under floodlights over St Etienne, FC Koln, Real Madrid and Norwich?

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I am not searched as I enter the ground, although I carry a bag displaying the yellow stars of the European Union, perhaps I have diplomatic immunity.  Near the turnstiles just inside the ground a notice warns of high voltage electricity, seemingly just behind a locked door, and the sign advises that one should contact the stadium manger to gain access; I make a mental note just in case I’m feeling suicidal at half-time. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I use the toilet facilities and advance through the undercroft of the stand where there are now very few people at all; there aren’t many more in the stand and swathes of empty blue seats  greet the teams, cheering and singing just like regular Ipswich fans.  The teams are ready to kick-off as I select a seat just along from Phil.   Ipswich are playing towards me, Phil and the empty seats of ‘Churchmans’, now known as the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.  Cardiff kick-off and are wearing the most garish, unpleasant kit I have ever seen in my entire football watching life.   Cardiff’s shirts are day-glo green and their shorts are blue; it’s a kit inspired by the heads and hands of Edward Lear’s Jumblies and “Happen what may it’s extremely wrong”.

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It takes the Cardiff City supporters of whom there are 371, just eight minutes to enquire as to whether Portman Road is a library;

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their question is met with the characteristic stony silence as if no one heard them; just once I would like 13,000 odd Ipswich supporters to put their fingers to their lips and go  SShhhh!   The first half is not surprisingly a quiet affair; Cardiff dominate in the first ten or fifteen minutes without really looking like they know what they’re doing, but then Ipswich get back at them and create openings that almost lead to something that might result in a goal; corners, crosses, shots and the like.  The most notable feature of the game however, apart from Cardiff’s hideously coloured shirts, is the size of the Cardiff players, they are to a man enormous; it’s like a team of Neanderthals against a team of Australopithicus.  Who knew Neanderthals had such poor taste in shirts?  Any way, it’s not too bad a game and Ipswich seem every bit as good as Cardiff, just shorter and better dressed.  Surely there’s more to Cardiff City’s being second in the league table than this?

Half-time brings a visit to the toilet and a then a chat with a couple of women who used to travel to away games, as I did, on a coach hired by the Clacton branch of the supporters club. I also talk to Dee and Pete with whom I used to work and then Ray, another public sector employee and former colleague, who once appeared in an Anglian Water advertisement.  Ray went to see Ipswich play at Norwich; I ask him if he has come into some money; tickets for that game cost £40. £40! I’d expect to see a World Cup final for that.  We chat and are surprised to hear America’s 1971 recording ‘Horse With No Name’ playing over the PA system, but on reflection it is an appropriately dreary  and pessimistic song for Portman Road and its passionless supporters.

The second half begins and Cardiff City are still wearing those repulsive green shirts with blue shorts; why hasn’t the little bald referee Mr Davies told them? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But then, why would the Football League let a man called Davies referee a Cardiff City match?   I have heard talk of the Welsh Mafia, or Tafia and tonight we are seeing it in action.  There is no way Ipswich will win this game.

Ipswich aren’t quite as ‘good’ as they were at the end of the first half and get a bit fed up.  When a disputed throw-in is awarded to Cardiff, Ipswich captain Luke Chambers gives a frustrated little skip and beats his arms against his sides like a petulant school girl.  Behind the thrower an advert reads ‘Ginster’s Pasties, Fill your boots’, which would make a good alternative to the half-time penalty shoot-out; how many pasties can you stuff into your shoe?  Above my head a buddleia still grows on the roof of the stand.

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When the attendance figure is announced, the Cardiff fans sing “ You’re only here for the Cardiff” , which given that it’s the lowest gate of the season isn’t saying much; if only they knew, but perhaps it was just the next song on their playlist.   But the Welsh clearly caught the late 60s early 70’s vibe of ‘Horse With No Name’ at half-time and reprise it with a blast of the Plastic Ono Band’s Give Peace a Chance, singing “ All we are saying is give us a goal” .  Three minutes later, a Cardiff free-kick drops in the Ipswich penalty area, a bloke in a nasty green shirt seems to fall on top of it, possibly handling it, before standing up and kicking it in an ungainly manner into the corner of the Ipswich goal; his name is Kenneth.  It’s a crappy goal, one of the crappiest, but we know something of Mr Davies’ taste in music.

The Ipswich supporters react as usual to their team going behind with a deafening wall of silence as they contemplate how they might become any less passionate and supportive of their team. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As the game enters its final fifteen minutes however, some voices briefly stir in the North Stand as the drum up the corner is occasionally heard and that old favourite “Sloop John B” is employed to celebrate that Luke Hyam is the only player in the team to have emerged from the Ipswich Town ‘Academy’: “He’s one of our own, He’s one of our own, Luke Hyam, He’s one of our own”.    Phil satirically sings “We’ve got him on loan, we’ve got him on loan, perm any one from Carter-Vickers, Callum Connolly or Bersant Celina, we’ve got him on loan”.

Having scored just twice in their last six home matches, Ipswich inevitably go one better to make it two goals in seven matches.  Equally inevitably, I hear the fading sound of boos as I skip out of the ground and run to the railway station to catch the ‘early’ train to Colchester, which I succeed in doing only to find my connecting train is cancelled.

It’s not been a terrible night’s football, some small parts of it were even quite good.  But overall it was what I believe in modern parlance is described as ‘meh’.  But I enjoyed going to the pub and seeing the pretty lights and speaking to lots of people and hearing the occasional Welsh accent, so there’s lots to be thankful for. I’ll probably come again.

Ipswich Wanderers 0 Coggeshall Town 3

The historic and much under-valued port and town of Ipswich has two senior clubs within the pyramid of non-league football, albeit clubs close to or at the base of that pyramid. Whitton United has been knocking around since the 1920’s and possibly before, but Ipswich Wanderers are up-starts by comparison, having begun in 1980 as a boys’ team and joined the Eastern Counties League in 1987 they only became Ipswich Wanderers in 1988. The Wanderers are now struggling uncomfortably close to the foot of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division, they are second from bottom and probably heading for relegation, whilst their opponents today from North Essex are second from top and keen to move up the pyramid from Step 5 to Step 4.

The Wanderers’ home on Humber Doucy Lane is on the north eastern edge of the town in a semi-rural setting which is actually within the village of Rushmere St Andrew. The environmentally responsible can access the ground by bus; not some country service that runs the third Tuesday of every month, but by Ipswich Buses route No 6 running every 20 minutes from Tower Ramparts bus station and passing near enough to leave just a five minute walk to the ground. But today I, along with my wife have been to visit my mum, so somewhat shamefully we have travelled by car.

It is a beautifully sunny, clear, winter’s day, some might think it spring-like, but it’s still a

 

bit too damp and chilly for that. We draw up into the large car park at ‘the Doucy’, parking on the grass behind the blue metal fence and the row of low metal-roofed stands. It’s ten to three and most people who are going to be here are here. An impressive row of portakabins line the route to the entrance, Ipswich Wanderers may be struggling on the pitch but they have portakabins to spare. The entrance, although it is a

 

couple of metres wide has a turnstile set on one side. I pay our entrance money (£6 each) to the cheery, welcoming gateman who records our presence with another couple of strikes from his biro on a piece of paper marked with ‘five bar gates’. We step past the turnstile, which I turn manually, just for fun so that it clicks twice; the gateman gets the joke, such as it is. I am disappointed to hear however that the programmes have sold out (normally £1.50).
Inside the ground the teams come onto the pitch to the strains of Dion’s “The Wanderer” but minus the words, meanwhile I fetch a couple of teas (£1 each) and start to see people I know; there’s Ipswich Town fan John, whose sister is serving in the tea hut, his friend

 

Michael, Jimmy from Coggeshall who introduces me to his friend Shane, Keith and Jim who live down the road from me, Geoff the Coggeshall Town turnstile operator with his slicked back hair and pint in hand, and quietly spoken Paul who runs the Coggeshall Town website and films the match. Feeling thoroughly at home, I stand my tea on the perimeter wall and Coggeshall Town kick the game off in their black and red striped shirts and black shorts travelling towards the battered, cream coloured, metal fence and equally battered looking and hacked about row of conifers at the Rushmere Road end of the ground. Ipswich Wanderers are in all blue and the scene is a colourful one with the clear sky, backdrop of conifers and the chill in the air lending it a Nordic feel, as if we might all have come to see Osterlenn FF versus Solvesborgs.

Coggeshall are soon dominating play and most of the game is being played out in the Wanderers’ half of the pitch. There are a couple of close calls for the Wanderers and it’s barely 3:15 when a free-kick on the right is brought down by Coggeshall number 7 Tom Monk, who then turns and half volleys into the corner of the net to give the ‘Seedgrowers’ of Coggeshall the lead. The good following of fans from Coggeshall cheer and the Wanderers fans look on stoically having seen it all before. I stand with Paul who is filming the match from between two of the three wonderful ‘home-made’ looking stands on the Humber Doucy Lane side of the ground. In front of us the Wanderers’ kit man bobs up and down making sure there is always another ball available every time one is booted out into the car park, which happens quite often. He curses Paul’s camera

 

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and doesn’t seem happy in his work as he mutters profanities at the players of both teams when they don’t get the ball back into play as quickly as he’d like; he’s doing a worthwhile job though. I take a wander to view the game from behind the Coggeshall goal and then return to find my wife talking to Keith and Jim; they used to divide their football habit between Colchester United and Wivenhoe Town, but Coggeshall is much closer and have now taken Wivenhoe’s place as their second team. Keith is an upright, tall man whilst Dave is quite small; they make me think of Yogi and Boo Boo. Although I don’t think they’d nick anyone’s picnic or packed lunch, I think Keith would suit a hat.

Coggeshall still dominate but are struggling to turn possession into clear cut chances let alone goals. The Wanderers are in combative mood and always able to get a head or a foot in the way when it counts and when that fails their goal keeper Jack Spurling is always in just the right place to collect the ball. It takes until twenty to four for Wanderers to have a shot on goal as their lanky number 9 Ashley Rankin chases a punt forward and despite an over heavy first touch strikes a first time shot from a narrow angle, which the Coggeshall ‘keeper James Bransgrove parries before smothering. There’s still time for another Coggeshall attack, which Ipswich clear but not without a bit of a panic. It’s been a typically noisy game but now for the first time we get some really loud swearing; “Play the fucking ball deep” somebody shouts, forgetting to ‘Keep it down for the kids’.

Half-time arrives amongst lengthening shadows and it’s been a reasonably entertaining half. Coggeshall are clearly the better side going forward but Ipswich Wanderers have competed and defended well enough to thoroughly frustrate them and the result is still

 

in the balance. We saunter towards the club house and the tea hut where I join a queue, which moves very slowly. As I reach the head of the queue there seems to be some sort of hiatus in the kitchen; one of my teas is placed before me but then there’s a delay and the kitchen staff gather round the large urn of hot water; one of the ‘tea-ladies’ turns towards me “I am sorry” she says sincerely “The lid of the tea pot has fallen in the urn”. The tallest person in the kitchen carefully fishes out said teapot lid, happily avoids serious scalding and I get the second tea just as the teams are coming out for the second half. Phew.

The long shadows have made the stand side of the ground even chillier than before so we crave what little warmth there is from the winter sun and stand behind the goal that Coggeshall are now attacking. Within minutes of the re-start Coggeshall score a second goal. A ball forward sees Tom Monk bearing down on Wanderer’s number five who struggles and slips and Monk is through on goal. From the corner of the box he wellies the ball solidly against the inside of the far post and a satisfying metallic crack rings out as the ball ricochets across into the far corner of the net; on the goal line Jack Spurling reacts quickly enough to turn and see his undoing. I feel blessed, I had a great view of the goal, but also if the ball hadn’t hit the post it would have hit me, and I would surely have dropped my tea.

The second half follows the pattern of the first with Coggeshall providing all the best bits, but Jack Spurling is providing his own one man show with call after catch after save after dive; a giant of a man having a giant of a match. The stand behind the goal is another beautiful self-build, with corrugated sheeting over a frame of scaffolding poles and a floor of paving slabs; it strongly reminds me of the metal bus shelters that used to stand on the Cornhill in front of Ipswich’s marvellous town hall, which incidentally has its 150th anniversary this year. Behind the dugout a tall green metal pole that looks like it might once have held up trolley bus wires adds to a likeable look of municipal knock-offs.

Architecturally the ‘Doucy is a treasure and today it is illuminated to advantage by the low winter sun. The crooked roof on the terrace is as quaint as any crooked half-timber Tudor house in Coggeshall, whilst the wooden tip-up seats (possibly from the director’s box at Portman Road?) are also something to admire. Strangely, overall it reminds me inexplicably of the stadium of an amateur club from Balaruc les Bains near Montpellier in southern France (see previous blog post in September 2017). In a way this is appropriate because supposedly the name Humber Doucy is derived from the French ‘ombres douces’ meaning soft shadows, which is how Napoleonic prisoners of war referred to the lane as they sought shade, having been working out in the open fields. I like to think they had a kick about too with berets and strings of onions for goalposts.

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The sunny side of the ground is more popular this half and the size of the crowd is doubled by the soft shadows on the metal fence behind.

In the ‘Cornhill bus shelter’ a bunch of lads sing occasional songs, ironically aping those sometimes heard at Portman Road.    Twice Coggeshall ‘score’ only to see the flag of linesman Mr Elwalawang delete the achievement and the lads amuse themselves with a rendition of “You thought you had scored, you were wrong, you were wrong”. They progress later onto “You are my Wanderers, my only Wanderers you make me happy when skies are grey”. A gang of older men with silver hair stand in a group close to the corner; laughing and being blokes they are the singing lads fifty years on. A couple of them hadn’t noticed the score is now 2-0. A man who recognises me from pre-match drinking at St Jude’s Tavern says hello.

The shadows of trees forty metres behind the ground now stretch right across the pitch and I move to stand with Paul who has placed his camera in the corner of the ground by the club house; he has very kindly managed to get a programme for me through his contacts with the Coggeshall club officials. Mild-mannered Paul is secretly seething however, because the kit man caused him to miss the second Coggeshall goal, but a third goal, probably the best of the match hopefully applies balm to soothe his troubled brow. Coggeshall’s substitute Aaron Cosgrave repeats a trick of running along the edge of the box, taunting the Wanderers defence with his close control before eventually the ball runs to number nine Ross Wall who sends it firmly and neatly into the corner of the net from 20 metres or so.

There are only a couple of minutes to play now and Paul is wishing them away because on his own admission he is a bit under dressed today and is therefore freezing cold. The final whistle from referee Mr Carter is consequently a welcome sound. It’s been an enjoyable afternoon of decent football played competitively and sportingly in a quirky stadium of soft shadows and scaffolding poles. Ipswich’s Jack Spurling has been a colossus and a lesser goalkeeper might have let in six or seven. Coggeshall win, but Wanderers have the best player on the field .

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Colchester United 2 Coventry City 1

After a hard day at work (7 hours 24 minutes) there’s nothing like getting home to your wife, husband  or partner on a winter’s evening to enjoy an aperitif, a good meal and a relaxing evening of engaging conversation.  But tonight I have worked almost eight hours, caught a later train and now find myself on the cold, dark, traffic-dominated concrete forecourt of Colchester railway station leaning into a drizzle filled wind as I head for The Bricklayers Arms as a precursor to a bus ride out to the Weston Community Homes out in the middle of nowhere Stadium and an evening of fourth division football.

In the Bricklayers there are just a handful of drinkers, perhaps because it’s not yet six o’clock.  I buy a pint of Colchester Brewery Number One (£3.50) and settle down at a small table to read a couple more chapters of W Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage; I’ve been reading it for weeks.  A man called Mike and his grand-daughter walk in, he says hello and I reciprocate.  The Bricklayers is under new management and seems brighter and somehow larger than before, I like it but they have been unable to resist having inane words in different fonts painted on the walls –   “Menu, Share, Full Flavour, Experience, Greatness Awaits.”  They forgot “Huh?”, but at least the beer is bit cheaper than it used to be.

 

  Someone says it’s quiet because the trains are not running; there’s been ‘a jumper’ at Kelvedon.  The barman, with no one to serve, obsessively wipes down the bar.  There’s a group of four men who seem to be from out of town, well one of them has Scottish accent, and they sit and pore over the menu before discovering that food isn’t served on Tuesdays.  As they leave one of them says “We’re going pizza then are we?”    I return to the bar as the first appreciable numbers of patrons, mostly men going to the match arrive and stand in groups; I have a pint of Colchester Brewery Sweeney Todd (£3.50).  At length I finish another chapter, drain my glass and head for the bus.

It’s still wet outside and the soft lighting inside the buses gently illuminates the dull street; I pay my fare (£2.50 return) and head upstairs to the front of the empty top deck; car brake lights and yellow street lights glow psychedelically  through the misted up, rain spotted front window of the bus.  I eat a Ginster’s pasty that I’d bought earlier (£1.50 from Sainsbury’s); it’s strongly flavoured but the packet tells me that despite being ‘The Nation’s Favourite’ it contains just 14% ‘quality beef’. It doesn’t clarify whether that’s good or poor quality; the two large pieces of gristle I chew on don’t suggest the former.  The bus fills up and a bunch of middle-aged Coventry fans join me, still enjoying the thrill that we got when we were young, riding up at the front.  I ask one about the recent travails of their troubled club, but wish I hadn’t, because he goes on a bit.  I’m interested, but don’t want to write a thesis on it.  I’m not proud of this so don’t admit to my slightly ghoulish desire to see Coventry City, a club who were in the First Division for 34 years, playing in the Fourth Division. It’s morbidly fascinating, like having seen Simon Dee signing on.

 

The bus lurches, growls and hisses its way through the wet streets to the stadium where everyone politely alights thanking the driver for delivering us safely.  The stadium lights penetrate the gloom, casting angular shadows beyond the spiky stands. It’s only twenty five past seven so I take a wander around the ground to take in the ambience.  I love floodlights. It’s bleak and open out here, even more-so on a wet and windy night like this and people scurry towards the turnstiles appearing and disappearing between the shadows.  Across the A12 the jaundiced neon of the McDonald’s arches glows brightly.  Feeling cold I head for the warmth of the club shop from which a toy Eddie the Eagle stares blankly into the night.  The shop is virtually empty of customers; children have long spent their Christmas money and it seems no one wants a Colchester United air freshener, tea towel or pencil tonight.  I buy a programme, but outside from one of the cold and wet, windswept vendors.

 

As I join the three person queue at the turnstile a steward asks what I have in my bag and I try and make it sound interesting as I tell him about my umbrella and Kindle; he takes a look but mostly has a feel as if playing one of those party games where you have to pull out particular objects from a sock.  A female steward in a fluffy bobble hat asks me if I have any games. “What, like Snakes and Ladders or Ludo?” I say, bemused.  “No, on your Kindle” she says.   I didn’t even know you could have games on your Kindle. “You can read my book, if you want” I tell her as the turnstile beeps and I enter the stand, not really knowing if she would like W Somerset Maugham.  I reduce my liquid content and then take my seat, which appropriately is in Row P.

The pitch looks soft and muddy and Coventry City kick-off the playing towards the South Stand, Severall’s and the town far beyond.  Coventry wear their customary all-pale blue kit, not for nothing are they known at the Sky Blues.  Colchester United sport blue and white striped shirts and white shorts with beautiful blue and white hooped socks which look a treat. The drizzle sweeps across the pitch from east to west, visible only in the glare near the lights and unseen on the ground.

It’s a good game, Coventry try a couple of shots and then Colchester take over a bit, their number 20 Courtney Senior darting forward and repeatedly feinting to the right before running off to the left past hapless Coventrians.     In the seventh minute, as if to announce that they’d now got a quorum, the few hundred Coventry fans up the corner near the A12, somewhat surreally burst into a chorus of the Eton Boating Song.  It’s not because of the ‘jolly boating weather’ or being Old Etonians, but rather because when Jimmy Hill took over the club in the 1960’s, taking them for the fourth to the first division he wrote new Coventry-centric lyrics to make it the club song.  I always thought Jimmy Hill was a bit odd.  Now Jimmy is dead and Coventry City are back in the fourth division, but the song remains the same and they’ve brought their modern folk music with them to soggy Colchester.

People around me are getting involved in the game, some cuddle up for warmth , others are in fancy dress.  A free-kick is given to the Coventry goalkeeper after he’s challenged by a Colchester player, “How the fuck does that work?” queries a voice behind me. A dog’s bark echoes from the dark corner between the stands; there are two policemen with police dogs watching the game, the dogs turn around as if to ask “Who said that?”   The drizzle has draped itself over the walls of the concrete vomitoria in the west stand.  At the back of the stand a man talks loudly with occasional calls of “Come On U’s”.  He  sounds a bit like Harry H Corbett and in my mind I imagine he looks like Oliver Reed; I turn around to look, but can only see Roy Cropper from Coronation Street.

 

Twenty-six minutes have passed;  a couple of legs or feet trail and snag and courtesy of the interpretation of referee Mr Busby, Colchester have a penalty; Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe scores, they deserve it and possibly more goals, but 1-0 is still the score at half-time.  I go under the stand to escape the chill and release some more what’s become of the output of the Colchester Brewery.  The refreshment counters are doing a good trade tonight and there’s an intensity about the staff in their blue schoolboy caps as they dole out the over-priced, plastic wrapped, processed fare.  I flick through the match programme which is boring and too inoffensive for my taste.  I like the page on local football however and in particular the words of FC Clacton manager Kieron Shelley who is quoted as saying “I still believe this team is good enough to compete – may be not at the top of this league or even the middle but certainly within this league”.  I like to think he paused for a long time after he said certainly and perhaps went “…erm…”.

 

Within ten minutes of the game re-starting a newly galvanised Coventry City equalise as Tom Bayliss smacks the loose ball high into the middle of the goal from the edge of the penalty box.  The Eton Boating Song is heard again and I wonder what Captain Algernon Drummond, who wrote it back in the 1870’s would have made of Jimmy Hill and Match of the Day. As a riposte to the glorious swell of the boating song the Colchester fans respond with a Welsh hymn tune and sing “We forgot that you were here”.  I don’t know where they thought they had gone, to chapel perhaps.   Not to be out done the Coventry fans respond with “You’re not singing anymore” to the same tune and from behind me Roy Cropper booms “Shut up you Black Country tossers” showing off his knowledge of geography, but perhaps a lack of singing talent and vocabulary.  A youth in front of me finds it amusing though.

Coventry are having the better of the second half and I sense that Colchester might rue not scoring more than once when they were the better team.  The managers of both teams hop about in their ‘technical areas’ looking like they may also have been processing the products of the Colchester Brewery; and it is a cold night.   Colchester bring on their substitutes and Coventry introduce a man with three surnames, Johnson Clarke-Harris, a name which the Coventry fans quickly put to music covering the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.

The drizzle has stopped, but the cold is deepening and the damp is penetrating my bones.  My ankles and knees feel like pins are being pushed into them, my nose is numb and I sense an iciness crystallising around the very depths of my soul.  It’s the 88th minute of the game and just then Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe crosses the ball from in front of me,  Mikael Mandron leaps majestically in the centre of the penalty area, turns his head to divert the path of the ball, sending it firmly into the  bottom corner of the goal net. A goal, and Mandron salutes the crowd, before disappearing into a blue and white striped human hill, which includes mascot Eddie the Eagle.  Joy abounds.

After four additional minutes Mr Busby blows conclusively, Colchester win, Coventry lose and my circulatory system stutters back into life as I head for the bus and my lonely spouse.

 

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Ipswich Town 0 Burton Albion 0

During the night I kept waking up in the middle of strange dreams, dreams of a spiritual, religious nature. In one I seemed to be a captive of some religious sect and a younger man who was with me wrote something on a piece of paper and hid it inside what looked like a part of a curtain rail. At that moment another man, who looked as if he might be a priest walked in, took the curtain rail and looked at the message etched inside, which consisted of the numbers 6 and 10. The ‘priest’ smiled and I seemed to know what he was going to say, but was a bit surprised when he said ‘Love thy Club’. That’s a bit naff, I thought. Either my descent into madness is further advanced than I realised or a large brandy before going to bed is not advisable.
Today is grey and cold and as I walk to catch the train to Ipswich, there is the occasional spot of rain in the air carried on a swirling breeze. I walk past a dead bird that lies in the road, its feathers are ruffled by the wind. Only three people wait for the train with me, a man and two women, one of whom wears a white coat. I enjoy a poster urging me to keep what would be an imaginary child strapped in. The train arrives, I board and as I walk through the carriage a man in his sixties eyes me and my blue and white scarf

suspiciously, as though he may be a Daily Mail reader. I sit in a seat that I must give up if an elderly or disabled person needs it; I’m not a betting man but I’ll take my chances, it’ll add some excitement to the journey. On the opposite side of the carriage to me are a couple who wear grey, comfortable clothing which blends in with the upholstery. Three people get into the carriage at Manningtree, one is wearing a very large, hooded, Ipswich Town ‘sports coat’; the cream and red stripe on the arms dates it to the mid 1990’s; he looks like a huge gnome.
Arriving in Ipswich it is raining and the plaza in front of the station shines with the wet

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sending reflections of lamp posts deep into the ground, a seagull perches on the ridge of a slate roof. There is no one much about and little sign that a football match will soon take place. In Portman Road stewards huddle out of the rain in a doorway and a car park attendant shelters beneath an umbrella.

The only crowd is one of twenty or so Burton Albion supporters waiting to buy tickets.

Rain drops run down the faces of the statues of Bobby Robson and Alf Ramsey and look like tears, droplets form at the ends of their noses. Sir Bobby’s fist looks like he’s angrily squeezing a wet sponge. I buy a programme (£3) from a girl in a box with a window, “Enjoy the match” she says.

St Jude’s Tavern welcomes me in from the rain and the gloom with the warm sound of retired men’s conversation. I buy a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) and standing at the bar a man with a straggly beard tells me a ‘joke’ about the definition of the word ‘pansexual’, the punchline is something to do with kitchen utensils, which is a bit obvious, but he seems very amused. I take a seat and my friend Mick arrives; he has a pint of the Match Day Special too and asks if non-meat pies are on the menu; they’re not, so he buys a packet of Guinness flavoured crisps. We talk and our conversation covers walnut cake, organised crime, Mick McCarthy, Gilou Escoffier, the attractions of Lille, Charles de Gaulle and his ‘blown-up’ Citroen DS. Mick is considering buying a season ticket next year. We both drink a further pint of the Match Day Special as other drinkers drift away towards Portman Road. Eventually, It is time to leave too, we say goodbye; I depart for the match and Mick for the toilet. Outside, a foreign man waiting at a bus stop steps aside to let me pass, he smiles and says something I don’t understand and I ask him where he’s from. “Turkish” he says and then “Istanbul”. He shakes my hand and I say “Welcome to England”.
There are very few people heading down Portman Road and I half worry that my watch is slow and it’s later than I think, but it’s not, it’s just that the Ipswich public would seem not to be enthused by the prospect of today’s fixture against Burton Albion, the team 24th in the league table, who have lost their last five matches. I don’t understand why, surely it’s a good opportunity to see Town win, and isn’t that the point? Personally, I enjoy games against ‘small’ clubs like Burton Albion, which people who favour analogies drawn from other sports describe as ‘punching above their weight’. I sometimes consider that I am a person more suited to watching lower division football, but I am ‘punching above my weight’ in supporting a team in the Second Division, and I don’t even like boxing.
Portman Road is so quiet I feel like a bit like Charlton Heston in the Omega Man as I head for the turnstiles. I waste no time queueing today, only in deciding which queue-free turnstile to go through; too much choice. Once inside I head straight for ever-present Phil, eschewing my allocated seat in favour of human contact. Today Phil has his young son Elwood with him. The teams are already on the pitch, Burton wearing all yellow, weirdly with black shoulders; they are kicking towards the North Stand.

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Ipswich of course wear blue shirts and white shorts with what once were called blue stockings, before socks entered common parlance. The game starts slowly and Ipswich even slower, allowing Burton Albion, nickname ‘the Brewers’ to keep the ball much of the time. Burton’s club badge is a stylised B and an A set within the outline of a man with a beer belly kicking a ball; it’s not about bravado and ‘sporting excellence’ and I like it all the more for that.
An elderly sounding couple with distinct Suffolk accents sit behind me. “There isn’t many here today; twelve thousand?” he says. “They’ll say fifteen, but there in’t ” she says dismissively and almost angrily. A lot of Ipswich supporters seem convinced that the club overstates its attendance figures, it’s a mystery why, particularly given that Marcus Evans the club owner is probably the sort of bloke who is constantly running scared of the Inland Revenue. That’s Ipswich people for you, a suspicious lot.
The football takes on the character of the afternoon, drizzly and soggy. Burton Albion are playing better than Ipswich, but nevertheless there seems little likelihood of them scoring a goal despite the presence in their team of former Ipswich prodigy Darren Bent, but he’s now aged thirty-three and his best years are a fading memory. Behind me, talk turns to how players ‘nowadays’ stay on the ground for ages when they get a knock and thump the turf with their fists; why do they do that other than for reasons of pure affectation? “They’ve got tha wages, why not take ‘em orf” is the frustrated question behind as a Burton player receives treatment. “They could use that cart their got”.
The absence of match atmosphere is palpable. Nevertheless, despite the paucity of the crowd I sense a mild collective will to win as if the real miseries are not here today and those left are as optimistic as Ipswich people get. They sit in near silence in terms of vocal support, but there is a background hum of hope and expectation, although it could just be the rain on the roof. The half ends with Ipswich winning a corner, which there isn’t time to take. There is some booing as the teams leave the field, but I applaud enthusiastically, partly by way of hopeful encouragement and partly because what I have just seen was so poor that I am a little in awe.
At half time I go down onto the concourse to drain off some of the Match Day Special and then stare with the others at one of the TV screens. The statistics show that Burton Albion had four shots on goal but none was on target; Ipswich did not have a single shot on goal. That of course does not tell the whole story, because the team were terrible in many other ways as well.  I turn to leave and see two children looking disbelievingly at the price list of drinks and snacks from the refreshment counter.

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I look at the programme which is as dull as the game, but for a piece on Town’s 6-1 victory at Millwall in the sixth round of the FA Cup back in 1978. It was a game that was memorable as a great win, but also for the violent behaviour of some Millwall fans, and Bobby Robson was quoted by Jimmy Hill on Match of the Day as having said that “they should turn the flamethrowers on them”. The piece reports that Bobby Robson later explained that what he had said after the match was said in private and was not for public consumption. The piece then adds rather startlingly that Bobby said it was apparent from letters he had received that what he had said actually summed up the feelings of “all genuine football lovers”. Those were the days.

I return to my seat in time for the re-start of the game, which shows a very slight improvement on the first half as Ipswich finally manage a shot at, but not on goal, which is greeted with ironic and sarcastic cheers and extended applause by the witty home crowd. With an hour gone Ipswich make a double substitution and Mustapha Carayol makes his debut for the team; he is Town’s first ever Ghanaian player, which is nice. Carayol looks keen and wins a free-kick with his first touch; a little later he runs past two Burtonians with ease, but sends in a weak cross, which is effortlessly cleared as he quickly assimilates into the team. Passes go astray and the ball is booted aimlessly up field and the woman behind me is baffled by how inept these highly paid footballers can be. “That’s all they gotta do all day long, practice”. She pauses for a moment’s thought then adds “Until lunchtime; when they go to the bookies”.

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On the Burton Albion bench manager Nigel Clough is well wrapped-up against the cold up with  a scarf across his face like some hybrid manager-cum-ultra.  There is genuine, warm applause from the Ipswich crowd as Darren Bent is substituted in the 71st minute, but then the north stand decide that enough is enough and they remind Mick McCarthy through the medium of Sloop John ‘B’ that his football is faecal. But the singing is not delivered with gusto and soon fades away, perhaps because there aren’t enough of them here to really do the song justice. The afternoon’s attendance is announced as 13,815, the lowest figure for a league game at Portman Road since the late 1990’s apparently. There are 169 supporters from Burton and they become the first away fans this season not to have employed opera or any other means to tell the home crowd that their support smells much the same as Mick McCarthy’s football. Given however, that they have travelled from Staffordshire on a cold, wet, February afternoon to watch a miserable game of football, they would have had every right to do so.

Burton finish the game on the attack and goalkeeper Bart Bialkowski literally single-handedly saves Ipswich from defeat with a spectacular one-handed save, before referee Mr David Webb breathily spins the pea in his whistle for the final time and releases us from his thrall. It has been a terrible afternoon of football and utterly life affirming.   If it wasn’t for misery there would be no great art. Football like life is wonderful and simultaneously bloody awful too.

Phil, Elwood and I walk away from the towering lights and stands of Portman Road and we are all the stronger for our experience this afternoon. I have invited Phil and Elwood back for dinner and we’re having sausage and mash with carrots because that’s what Elwood likes.

Long Melford 2 Newmarket Town 1

Long Melford is a big village, one of the most appealing and attractive in Suffolk according to Suffolk Tourist Guide.com with, according to Wikipedia, a population in 2011 of some 3,518. Melford, as it is known locally, is just a few miles north of Sudbury, it used to have a railway but since 1967 and the evil Doctor Beeching, the line now terminates at Sudbury. If you want to get to Long Melford by public transport therefore, it is necessary get the No 753 bus from Sudbury to Bury St Edmunds. Like the train service from Marks Tey, the bus service runs hourly, but as this is England the trains and buses are not properly co-ordinated; the train to Sudbury arrives at 13.08 and the bus conveniently leaves at 13:30, reaching Long Melford Post Office ten minutes later. On the return journey however, the 754 bus passes Long Melford Post Office at 17:11 and arrives in Sudbury four minutes after the train has left, at 17:20, so there is nearly an hour’s wait in Sudbury for the next train at 18:16.
Today however, I am driving to Long Melford’s Stoneylands ground because I have agreed to give a lift to a man called Roly, who lives in nearby Borley. I happen to know Roly’s house is within walking distance of Stoneylands because Roly has walked it before, but I was in generous mood when we discussed by text message going to the game and very slightly inebriated.
It is a grey, still, cold winter’s day as I make the twisting, undulating drive through Chappel, home of the East Anglian Railway Museum, Mount Bures with its excellent Thatchers Arms pub, Bures with its large empty bus depot, the edge of Cornard and through busy Sudbury before taking the turn towards the wonderfully named Foxearth. In Borley, Roly’s Victorian cottage home is a scene of domestic bliss; his partner Sarah reclines on the sofa with their young baby Lottie, whilst Penny the dog rolls over at my feet and wriggles excitedly. But I don’t linger, there is football to go to and withinOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA minutes Roly and I are bouncing down the pitted, puddle filled private road that leads to the football ground and my Citroen C3 gets a taste of what it must have been like to be a Citroen 2CV carrying a tray of eggs across a field somewhere in the Auvergne.
Getting parked takes longer than it should as the man in the car in front seems to want to park as close to the entrance as possible, which means reversing gingerly and at first unsuccessfully into a narrow space despite the presence of acres of car free space just 15metres away. There is an air of the village hall about Melford’s ground from theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA outside and indeed the club’s nickname is The Villagers. There is no turnstile as such here, just a few metal and plastic barriers herding would be spectators towards a kiosk of the type that used to be at the exit to municipal car parks back before the days of Pay & Display, when a bloke stamped your ticket and took your money as you left. There is a short queue to get in because it takes the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgrey-haired woman in the kiosk a little while to root around for change from a plastic tub. A board on the side of the kiosk announces the price of admission, but in reality it’s just a green smudge of felt tip pen; fortunately I’ve done my homework so I know from the club website that admission is £7 including a programme.
Once inside, Roly buys me a bottle of Nethergate IPA (£3.50) in the bar, which is the least he could do after I went out of my way to drive him here, selfishly he gets one for himself too. We drink bottled beer because sadly the hand pump on the bar is covered over with a tea towel, which is very disappointing. The woman serving is struggling for change and asks rhetorically how she is expected to run a bar with a float of just four pound coins. I empty my pockets and find just short of ten pounds in change, which she is happy to exchange for a ten pound note; I’m 40p up!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We sup our beer in the company of other middle-aged and older men stood around tables as men do in bars, but soon we are aware that the teams are coming on to the pitch. We leave the clubhouse just as the line-up for the obligatory handshakes is dissolving away into the two halves of the pitch. Newmarket Town are the visiting team today and they sit seventh with 53 points from 31 games in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League table; Melford are 16th with 39 points from 32 games. It’s a clash between a village known for antique shops and a town known for horse racing. I suspect that watching local football puts us firmly outside those two spheres of activity although weirdly I think, there is an advert in the match programme for “Wealth management advice”, whatever happened to plain old financial advice?
The 1970’s pop blaring from the tannoy stops abruptly as Newmarket, nicknamed predictably as the Jockeys, kick off towards the dull, suburban estate-style houses at the Sudbury end of the ground. Newmarket’s club colours are yellow and blue, but for some unknown reason today they are wearing a rather ugly all red kit with white stripes below the chest, as if they’d brushed their teeth before coming on and dribbled Colgate down their stomachs. Melford play towards the dilapidated wooden fence, shelter and open fields to the north, wearing their signature black and white striped shirts and black shorts. Melford’s kit is embellished with name of the excellent Nethergate Brewery, who have newly built premises at the entrance to the village by the turning to Foxearth.
Newmarket start well, passing neatly and getting forward, but Melford suddenly win possession, breakaway and have a shot, and so it continues. Both teams have a lot of players with beards. Newmarket have the ball most of the time, but Melford spring the occasional surprise, getting the ball to their number seven Hassan Ally who is always in the right place, but never quite makes the final telling cross or pass. The Melford cross bar is hit by a header and then at about twenty five past three a long ball to the right is chased down by Lewis Whitehead who shoots across the Melford goal keeper; Newmarket lead and a number of middle aged men cheer unexpectedly. No one in the crowd is wearing club colours but for a Bedlington Terrier in a red coat, so the presence of away supporters is a surprise.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Half-time arrives and Newmarket would seem to be in control. Roly has already treatedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA or ‘tret’ himself, as he would say in his quaint rustic dialect, to a cheeseburger (£3.00) from the food bar which the programme tells us is called Deb’s Diner. The concluding paragraph of the joint managers’ column in the programme says “Whatever happens, we hope you enjoy your afternoon here in Long Melford, get yourself something to eat and drink…” and Roly has clearly taken note. I don’t ask him if it was an early tea or late lunch or just a celebration that his NHS health check during the week had shown him to be a well man, clearly capable of absorbing the ill-effects of junk food, for the time being at least.
We go into the club house again for two more bottles of Nethergate IPA and to catch the half-time scores on the TV and are much heartened that Ipswich are winning 2-0 at Sunderland. The club house is recently refurbished after the roof fell-in last year and there are several marvellous photos on the walls of past achievements such as Suffolk Senior Cup wins. A trophy cabinet contains a couple of old brown leather footballs which impress me more than the cups and trinkets. When there is a cosy clubhouse, half time is never long enough and it’s soon time to re-join the rows of middle-aged men hanging over the rail around the pitch.

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The second half is not the same as the first, roles are reversed and it is the Villagers who more frequently have the ball at their feet whilst the Jockeys chase about in vain and are pushed back into their own half. For the second half we stand on the opposite side of the ground to the clubhouse near the dugouts and in front of a coniferous hedge, carefullyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and neatly cut into a modernist architectural shape; behind the hedge a close-board wooden fence is in places nailed to its thick trunks. In its neatness the hedge is only matched by the Newmarket goalkeeper’s haircut, but is less contrived. There is more noise on this side of the pitch as the coaches of both team teams shout and urge their teams on.
As the game continues Melford dominate more and more and Newmarket are getting tetchy. Whilst there were hardly any fouls at all in the first half, tiredness and desperation and swearing are introducing a new kind of entertainment. A Melford player goes down and the Newmarket number two complains to Mr Pope and anyone who is listening, because Mr Pope isn’t, that Melford have some right prima donnas, although he pronounces it pre-madonnas. Another foul and a free-kick on the edge of the box and then another. Then, whilst Roly is in the toilet Melford win a third free-kick. Despite referee Mr Pope taking time to book the perpetrator, Roly still isn’t back by the time Ross Waugh scores, apparently with a header, although to be honest it was one of those messy goals and I had lost track of the ball.
There are only eight minutes left and the blokes in trackie bottoms and sports coats onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the touchline are visibly tense. The Melford number ten Scott Sloots is hurt and is substituted; as he hobbles off the pitch one or two of his own players seem to be complaining that he is taking his time. “Come on ref, make him get off quicker” I hear. I hadn’t previously realised that there was a point where team togetherness and the will to win would clash. But nevertheless, Melford continue to push forward and in the final minute of injury time there is a run down the left, the ball’s in the box, a shot is blocked and Hassan Ally is in the right place to score from the rebound. Rarely have I seen such elation from a team sixteenth in the league to a winning goal; both coaches burst onto the pitch to celebrate with the team as if this was a most crucial victory. I’m all in favour of making your own fun but this seems to be going a bit far.
To his credit, Mr Pope the referee makes nothing of the exuberance of the Melford coaches and in no time at all the match is over. Roly and I stroll round to the club house to make final use of the toilet before applauding the Melford team from the pitch. It’s been a very entertaining game with a dramatic finale and I’ve made 40p.