Felixstowe & Walton v Haverhill Borough Needham Market 0 Dulwich Hamlet 3

It had been a damp morning, I had walked to the village post office in a light drizzle and then driven back to collect a prescription for my wife from the pharmacist opposite the post office because I had forgotten it first time around. I now leave the house for the third time in an hour to walk to the railway station. The day is dull and grey, but as I turn the corner into the station forecourt there is a single bloom on a hawthorn bush. It seems Rachel Carson’s silent spring is delayed for another year, but it’s surely coming.
Putting aside thoughts of doomsday I board the train and text a man called Gary to let him know I am in the third car of the train. The smell of cheap perfume, so cheap it could just be the smell of washing powder, permeates the warm air of the carriage; behind me a couple speak to one another in a foreign language. Gary is accompanying me today and will join me on the train at Colchester and in due course he does so, but not before I anticipate his boarding of the train by the door nearest me only to see a man who looks like Iggy Pop’s heavier brother board in his place, which I find a little disconcerting. Gary has read previous entries on this blog and this has inspired him to want to join me, because it sounds such fun.
Gary and I catch up on events since we last met and soon arrive at Ipswich where there is another half an hour to wait for the train to Felixstowe, we therefore adjourn to the Station Hotel opposite where Gary drinks a pint of a strategically branded ‘American’ lager called Samuel Adams, served in a strangely shaped glass and I drink a pint of a fashionably hoppy ‘craft ale’ that I have never heard of, which is probably brewed furtively by the Greene King brewery. The Station Hotel is pleasant enough but reeks of the latest corporate house style of a national brewing chain.
At about ten to two we drain our glasses and cross the road back to the railway station to discover that due to a passenger being taken ill, the 13.58 to Felixstowe has been cancelled. The Ipswich to Felixstowe passenger rail service has to be one of the least reliable anywhere on Earth and suffers regular cancellations for a variety of reasons, sometimes for days at a time. This may be because it is just a one track, one carriage shuttle service, but this being so there should be a contingency plan to maintain a service. If this were mainland Europe there would probably be a regular tram or light rail service between Ipswich and Felixstowe, but sadly this is brexiting Britain.
The cancellation provokes a quick assessment of where else there is an accessible game this afternoon and it’s a choice between Needham Market, Whitton United or Ipswich Wanderers. Seeing as we are at the railway station from where trains run directly to Needham, but buses do not run directly to Whitton or Humber Doucy Lane it is easiest to go to Needham. A convoluted ticket refund and new ticket purchase procedure later (£3.05 for a day return with a Gold Card), we are ready to catch the 14.20 to Cambridge calling at Needham Market.
The hourly train journey to Needham is short and sweet, taking just ten minutes to sneak out of Ipswich’s back door past the ever more dilapidated, former Fison’s factory at Bramford and along the wide valley of the River Gipping. Needham Market station is aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA thing of beauty, a red brick building in the Jacobean style and dating from 1846, it is Grade 2 listed. Happily, although it was closed in 1967 it re-opened just four years later. Tearing myself away from the loveliness of the railway station, it is a numbingly simple and direct walk to Bloomfields, the home of Needham Market Town Football Club. Across, the station forecourt, sadly dominated by parked cars, past the wonderfully named Rampant Horse pub where Calvors beer and lager brewed locally in Coddenham is served, across the main road, down the side of the Swan Hotel and on up the side of the valley, leaving the timber framed buildings of central Needham and reaching the football ground through an estate of 1960’s bungalows. The route is so simple and direct it is as if the railway station and the football ground are the two most important things in Needham Market and as Gary remarks, the path between is akin to Wembley Way.
At Bloomfields we walk through the busy car park and are both £11 lighter having passed through the turnstile, on the other side of which a programme costs a further £2. It’s not twenty to three yet so we take a detour into the clubhouse and there being no real beer on offer we imbibe something called East Coast IPA (£3.00 a pint). The pump label shows the east coast of America for some reason, although the beer is manufactured by Greene King in Bury St Edmunds and my view is that they are hustling in on the good name of the ‘other’ Suffolk brewer Adnams, which uses the slogan ’beer from the coast’. Gary likes the beer, but then he likes Carlsberg; I find it much too cold, bland and fizzy and I’m glad when it’s over. That’s ‘the thing’ about drinking alcohol, it has to be pretty disgusting not to finish it.


Outside, the sizeable crowd of 495 mill about and lean over the pitchside rail, whilst the two teams appear to be caged up inside the tunnel from the dressing rooms. Eventually the teams process onto the field side by side and go through all that hand shaking malarkey. The stadium announcer speaks with a mild Suffolk accent which sounds clipped as if he doesn’t read very well, but in fact that is just the nature of reading out loud with a Suffolk accent. Gary and I remark on the name of the Dulwich number eleven, Sanchez Ming, the sort of name to strike fear into the heart of Donald Trump, if he has one. Today’s match is sponsored by John and Sue. Gary and I elect to stand with the Dulwich supporters in the barn like structure behind the near goal at the Ipswich end of the ground. If Needham ever had to make this stand all-seater they could do so with the addition of just a few straw bales.


The match begins with Dulwich Hamlet, all in pink, kicking towards Ipswich whilst Needham, who are disguised as Melchester Rovers play in the direction of Stowmarket. Dulwich start well and have an early shot blocked. A Dulwich supporter sounds a doom-laden warning to the Needham goalkeeper, Danny Gay, that he is on borrowed time. When he does it again someone responds that we all are. It’s marvellous how Step 3 non-league football gets you in touch with a sense of your own mortality. The goalkeeper smiles kindly, but it’s not even ten past three when following a turn and through ball from Dipo Akenyemi, Dulwich’s nippy number seven Nyren Clunis appears in front of goal with the ball at his feet and just the large frame of Danny Gay between him and glory. Nyren and glory are united as the ball is at first blocked by big Danny, but Clunis rolls in the rebound and the Dulwich supporters cheer gleefully. A man in a dark raincoat and trilby hat dances around holding a banner that says ‘Goal’ in case anyone was in any doubt that Dulwich had scored. A woman swings a small pink and navy blue football rattle, but it doesn’t. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dulwich continue to provide all the attempts on goal and a selection of corner kicks and shortly after twenty past three Clunis scores again, in similar circumstances to the first goal, but due to a defensive mistake and Danny Gay makes no initial save. This time the man in the dark raincoat and hat toots a pink plastic horn to celebrate. The Needham locals look on silently, inscrutably, like Ipswich Town fans do. They may have been expecting defeat, Dulwich, after all, are striking out at top of the twenty-four team Bostik Premier Division, whilst Needham are meandering around the wilderness of mid-table anonymity where existence has no meaning; they are 14th . A twenty-four team league is much too large.
As half-time approaches Gary asks if I fancy a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate and from his short menu I choose tea (£1). Gary has a tea too. Over tea Gary talks fondly about his grandfather who was a Communist and stood as such in a council election in the London Borough of Brent in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. He was a well-known character on the west London estate where he lived, but he didn’t get elected. It was because of his grandad that Gary read Robert Tressell’s book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist”. We both agree that with today’s ‘gig economy’ the working life of many people is much the same in relative terms to what it would have been a hundred years ago.
We put the revolution on hold as the teams return to the field and we move to the other end of the ground to the side of the all-seated Les Ward stand, which is a small, prefabricated, metal structure. The Marketmen show glimpses of recovery as the new half begins but at seven minutes past four Dulwich score a third goal when Nyren Clunis passes to Nathan Ferguson who shoots accurately between the goalpost and the clawing, despairing, outstretched glove of Danny Gay.
Despite Needham showing a bit more attacking intent in the second half Dulwich are too good for them. Danny Gay has a chat with the Dulwich fans behind the goal; he seems to be counselling one supporter telling him that he is sure he could get a wife, because he has one. Later there is outrage amongst the Dulwich fans as The Marketmen’s Sam Nunn hacks down Clunis in full flight and is merely booked by referee Mr Paul Burnham who has blatantly ignored the supporters chants of “Off! Off! Off!”. Danny Gay then makes a fine save, diving to his left to tip away a shot that would otherwise have given Clunis his hat-trick.
The floodlights have now come on as the greyness of the day deepens and low cloud descends over the gaunt trees and power lines that provide a distant backdrop. A chill bites at my bare hands, which I push deep into my coat pockets. The game is drawing to a close and the result is already known. It is a somewhat pernickety and mean-spirited therefore when Mr Burnham penalises Dulwich goalkeeper Corey Addai for holding onto the ball too long, invoking a rarely enforced rule that results in an indirect free-kick to Needham and a harsh booking for Addai. Mr Burnham is a short, stocky, completely bald man whilst Addai is just 20 years old, 6 foot 7 inches tall and with an enormous head of hair. I suspect a barely hidden agenda provoked by jealousy.
Needham’s free-kick inevitably comes to nought and after four minutes of added time the game ends. The Needham number ten, Jamie Griffiths, who has worn a large head bandage throughout the afternoon is elected Man of the Match and receives a bottle of Champagne from John and Sue the match sponsors, whilst standing in front of a board plastered with company logos and being photographed.
Gary and I reflect on what has been an entertaining match as we head back down into Needham village. The next train is not until ten to six and therefore we have a good forty minutes or more to end the afternoon by enjoying a pint of ultra-locally brewed beer in the conveniently located and fabulously named Rampant Horse public house.

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Finally, Dulwich Hamlet are currently going through a torrid time due to the development company Meadow Partners who own their Champion Hill ground having undertaken a number of immoral and twisted actions such a trying to seize the rights to the club name and trademarks, loading debt onto the club and preventing it from taking profits form match day bars. Presumably Meadow Partners want rid of the club so that they can make profit from developing the site for housing.
Go to https://savedulwichhamlet.org.uk for more information and details of the Fans United day on Good Friday when Dulwich invite fans from all clubs to attend their match versus Dorking at Tooting & Mitcham’s ground where they are now forced to finish their season.

Coggeshall Town 4 Ely City 1

 

-“Paul says he’s going to watch Coggeshall tonight, do you want to go?”
-“Ooh, I dunno, I hadn’t planned on going, it’s a bit cold. What will you do? Won’t you be lonely here on your own?”
-“I’ll sit here for a bit then just go to bed and read”
-“Oh, okay then, tell him yes”
So it was that I was easily swayed, despite obvious concerns about my wife’s mental well-being; but it turns out she’s not as angst ridden and depressed as me. A half an hour later after wrapping up warm, it is with a glad heart that I ring my neighbour’s door bell and having said hello and goodbye to his wife Sarah we’re away in his white Ford SUV type thing, eventually making best use of its high frame to negotiate the impressively rutted car park of ‘The Crops’, now mainly known as West Street, the home ground of Coggeshall Town.
The glare of the floodlights spills over the car park, and through the half-light Paul spots Olly Murs moving a metal barrier a couple of feet so that the bloke he is with can park a large Audi. At the turnstile Geoff the turnstile operator is his usual cheery and welcoming self. Paul says hello and asks how his boy Mikey is; it turns out Mikey isn’t his boy at all, but the son of a friend. A queue forms at the turnstile as Paul and Geoff natter . Admission is £6 each but there are no programmes, although Geoff says if he can find one about he’ll get it to me., which is nice of him.
As we walk the path towards the club house the teams are already out, warming up and

huddling conspiratorially as if someone is telling a really dark secret or a filthy joke. Paul and I stop a little beyond the stand above what looks like a rabbit burrow and the game soon kicks off. Coggeshall are wearing their customary , attractive kit of red and black striped shirts with black shorts. Tonight’s opponents are Ely City, the only medieval cathedral city in the Eastern Counties Premier League. Coggeshall are second in the league table with a goal difference of plus 93 whilst Ely (nickname The Robins) are bobbing along in mid-table somewhere. Ely are wearing an unusual all-green kit, rendered all the more unusual by red flashes under the armpits. If kits count for anything it’s already 1-0 to Coggeshall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The game begins frenetically and with a lot of shouting and swearing. “Don’t let ‘em settle”, “Fuckin’ get into ‘em” are the early cries along with inevitable “Second ball!” It’s a very Anglo-Saxon approach, which no doubt does a huge disservice to the somewhat forgotten, more artistic Anglo-Saxons responsible for all the lovely brooches and buckles. The harsh voices ring out through the cold night air. Ten minutes gone and Coggeshall have the first shot; number ten Ross Wall bearing down on goal from the right only to scuff his shot into the side netting.
Coggeshall seem in a hurry, but lack accuracy as a result and Ely are doing alright. It’s two minutes past eight and a ball to the left, then a ball over the top of the Coggeshall defence is struck deftly with the outside of his boot high into the Coggeshall goal by the Ely number nine Dan Brown, which is a great name for a bloke playing for a team from a medieval cathedral city. It’s to be hoped he’ll be drinking his half-time cuppa from some sort of grail. It’s a very fine goal indeed and a bunch of four or five well insulated people in front of us cheer and clap as if they have come all the way from Ely, and they probably have.
Ely are happily surprised, Coggeshall a bit taken aback, but as the first half proceeds it seems Ely are worth their lead. In their haste Coggeshall are forgetting to do anything in midfield and Ely are able have a decent amount of possession and prevent them from establishing any sort of passing rhythm. Five minutes later and the Ely ‘keeper is heard to shout “Keep going”, which seems a bit desperate when there’s still seventy minutes left; it’s a bit early to have considered not being able to carry on.
Further up the pitch the language is more colourful, or whatever colour the word “fuckin” is. “Fuckin’ ‘ell lino” someone exclaims and then Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson announces “That was a fuckin’ elbow”, he then repeats himself before running up to referee George Byrne to say “Ref, that was a fuckin’ elbow” , just in case he was in any doubt that it was a “fuckin’ elbow”.
They’re not playing well but Coggeshall have had a few corners and  are still getting chances to score; Wall first sends the ball past the other post and then has it saved by the Ely goalkeeper Ben Mayhew. Number nine Nnamdi Nwachuku swings his foot limply at the ball and misses it when he has just Ben Mayhew between him and the goal. “It’s coming” says a bloke on the path near us. He then says it again. There is a belief that if something is said enough it becomes reality and mysteriously this comes true as eventually Wall has a shot from about 10 metres out and several deflections later the ball flies past a startled Ben Mayhew off a nearby team mate and into the net. It’s about twenty past eight now and before half-time Paul volunteers to get us both a pounds worth of tea, which we have our hands cupped around as the players leave the field to encouraging shouts from both sets of supporters. Everybody can be happy and enjoy their tea, because no one is losing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My winter clothing (a pair of wool socks, a pair of football of socks (Portsmouth), a T-shirt, a long sleeve cotton football shirt (Brighton & Hove Albion), a woolly jumper, overcoat, scarf (Clermont Foot) and woolly hat (Ipswich Town)) is either very effective or it can’t be that cold because I don’t go into the clubhouse at half time, but instead stand with Paul and natter to Jimmy who plays guitar and to Keith who is retired and used to work in a bank. The hot tea must help mind.
The second half is soon with us and we wander to the other end of the ground to get a better view of the Coggeshall goals when they go in. Initially, nothing changes and Ely continue to be the better team in midfield, which gives them a chance. The Ely number eleven Josh Sewell is particularly good, despite looking like he may be carrying a few extra pounds, and he dances over and around the ball, dribbling and turning like a footballer should. The portly footballer, always a midfielder or occasionally a full-back is a joy to watch and every team should have one.
Coggeshall are still regularly getting forward however, although some of their supporters seem to have gained a somewhat unattractive sense of entitlement. “Jesus Chr-i-st” is the refrain as defender from the cathedral city team executes a tackle in the penalty area and a Coggeshall forward goes down; a barrage of gor-blimey complaining ensues. Two minutes later however, it’s all forgotten, although not by me obviously, as a cross from the left is deftly but firmly headed past Mayhew by Wall. The goal jogs the collective Coggeshall Town memory and they start to play properly in midfield too. Ten minutes later and Nwachuku cuts back and then unexpectedly hooks a shot from a narrow angle into the far top corner of the goal. He looks very pleased with himself, which in the circumstances is understandable, it was a pretty good goal.
Ely probably won’t come back from this but it doesn’t stop them trying. Coggeshall find it necessary to concede free-kicks to stop them and captain Luke Wilson is cautioned for his trouble by the gangly Mr Byrne, who with his very long neck is a strangely imposing figure as he holds his yellow card aloft. Meanwhile Wilson’s foul and caution cause apoplexy with one of tracky-bottomed members of the Ely management duo , who seems aggrieved that Wilson has not been sent off. In a fit of temper he kicks the woodwork of the dug-out and generally stomps about embarrassingly, displaying a regrettable absence of Corinthian spirit. The referee’s assistants are Kenneth Reeves and Jack Willmore and the bald one in the tight shirt who looks like he is probably Kenneth Reeves goes and has a word.
There is no let up in the competiveness or swearing which becomes more bizarre “Someone fuckin’ do it for me” shouts an unidentified player. It’s as if tonight someone has told the players not to bother about the Eastern Counties League’s “Keep it down for the kids” initiative to curb bad language; after all there are no programmes tonight carrying the reminder to everyone and it’s a school night anyway. Just before half past nine Wall scores a fourth as the ball drops to him conveniently just six metres from goal and he boots it into the roof of the net.
The result is settled but the entertainment continues and there is still time for Ely’s Tom Williams to clatter into a Coggeshall player from behind and get the benefit of Mr Byrne’s extended card bearing right arm. As the assaulted Coggeshall player lies prone on the ground the ball is kicked at him, or it at least hits him, even if not intentionally. “R-e-f, R-e-f, R-e-f” someone whines. “He fuckin’ kicked the ball at him”, “R-e-f , he fuckin’ kicked the ball at him, R-e-f” . I imagine the whiner’s mum had to put up with the same when he was younger. “M-u-m, m-u-m, m-u-m, she pulled a face at me mum” and then his teachers “ M-i-ss, M-i-ss, M-i-ss, can I go to the toilet?” Meanwhile the Ely goalkeeper leaves his goal to join in with the squabbling and do a “Yap, yap, yap” mime with his be-gloved right hand; he looks like he’s brought along a glove puppet and I am reminded of the late Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop.
The ensuing free-kick brings no further goals and with the cold having now penetrated my shoes, both pairs of socks and ascended up them to just below my knees, Mr Byrne’s final whistle is excellent relief. Paul and I turn smartly to the exit, I wave to Jimmy the guitarist and we are heading for Paul’s white Ford and the short trip home. As Paul reverses the Ford onto his driveway we reflect on a fine evening’s entertainment. Might do that again sometime.

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Ipswich Town 0 Hull City 3

A surfeit of snow last Saturday week resulted in a rare postponement at Portman Road and now the joy that emanated from the relief of not having to go out on a grey, cold, icy afternoon is re-doubled as we reap the benefit of the inevitable mid-week match under floodlights.
On the basis that yes, it is possible to go to the pub too soon, I play the unaccustomed role of thrusting career man by working until five o’clock, but then walk directly to St Jude’s Tavern along with my accomplice for the first part of the evening, Roly. It feels odd that it’s still light, but that’s the wonder of the Earth’s rotation on its tilted access around the sun for you. In Sir Alf Ramsey Way a white van disgorges its load of transparent, polythene, East Anglian Daily Times ‘goodie-bags’ onto the pavement behind the North 40813963291_4cdf1f5084_o(Sir Bobby Robson) Stand and a few stewards stand about and chat before entering the ground. I wave to a moustachioed man called Michael who is hanging about in a blue Ipswich Town jacket by one of the burger vans on the Portman Road car park.
At St Jude’s Roly and I quickly decide to enjoy a pint on its own before moving onto a pie and a pint. We each choose the Match Day Special (£2.50) and before we have finished our pints Phil the ever present fan who never misses a game walks in carrying a bag of chips. Phil asks me to hold his chips while he asks at the bar if they feel comfortable with him consuming food purchased off the premises; they do and thanks to this grown-up, relaxed and progressive attitude he is able to join us with a half a pint of something about which I don’t know the detail. We talk football but also, in an homage to ‘What’s My Line’, of our respective employment and Phil reveals that he once worked at a music venue where he ‘roadied’ for Iggy Pop. He did the same for other recording artists apparently but having heard him mention Iggy Pop, I wasn’t paying attention after that. I soon return to the bar to arrange pies and pints (£5 for one of each); the last Steak & Kidney pie in the fridge for Roly and Chicken and Mushroom for me. I choose Elgood’s Cambridge for my pint whilst Roly remains faithful to the Match Day Special.
St Jude’s is filling up with bands of middle aged blokes heading for the match, but determined to at least get some enjoyment from the evening by drinking some good beer first. Chips, pies and pints savoured, Phil and Roly then each imbibe a half of Nethergate Priory Mild whilst I enjoy a full pint (£3.20) because I am going home by public transport and can drink as much beer as I like. Phil leaves for the game before Roly and I and before we in turn leave I speak to a cap-wearing, bearded man called Kevin, who I know from our shared experience of Wivenhoe Town. Kevin has come to St Jude’s after reading about it in this blog. Roly and I are leaving earlier than I would wish because he wants a ‘goodie bag’, or at least the packet of crisps it contains.
The walk to the match is as ever brisk and full of anticipation as the glow of the floodlights draws us down Portman Road like moths to a flame. As we pass the end of Great Gipping street I catch a glimpse of an upright lady gliding past on her black, Dutch, Azor bicycle, her dark curls buffeted by the breeze. “Gail!” I call and she stops. It’s my friend and former colleague who I have correctly identified as Gail, riding home from work. She’s late because her train was. I admire her red leather gloves and am impressed that she has negotiated the Portman Road crowds on her splendid black bicycle. We kiss one another on the cheek like the sophisticated Europeans that we are, no Brexit for us, and exchange all too brief words before carrying on our respective ways. Under the far-off gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue Roly and I part company as he heads for the East of England Co-operative stand to take up his ‘posh’ seat, which is more suited to Waitrose than the Co-op.


I breathe in the smells of bacon, chips and onions and move on down gently-lit Portman Road to the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, which is forever Churchmans. It seems the club has not opened all the turnstiles tonight and so I join a queue and remember what it was to go to a ’big match’ in the days of terraces. Inside the ground the strains of ‘My Way’ are reaching their conclusion; played in honour of Sir Bobby Robson whose favourite song it was, but poignantly and probably unknowingly tonight in honour of the man who wrote it. Cabaret singer Claude Francois or ‘Clo-Clo’ as he was popularly known in his native France, died forty years ago this weekend just gone. A nasty little man by many accounts, but beloved by thousands of middle-aged French women, he died in mysterious circumstances when he stood up in a hotel bath to correct a flickering light bulb. In France the fortieth anniversary of his death is front page news.
The game begins with tonight’s opponents Hull City, in their customary tiger suits of amber and black striped shirts with black shorts kicking towards the Sir Bobby Robson (North) Stand, but Ipswich get first go with the ball and start the game quite well. Within the first ten minutes Town win a corner and a header from Jordan Spence strikes a post. But Hull respond with shots at goal of their own and Bartosz Bialkowski makes a couple of neat saves. A drum is drummed in the North Stand and a chant chanted. Hull supporters make equivalent sounds. The man in the aged couple behind me says “That’s three shots their had”. “Yes” says his partner. “We never have one do we”. His partner doesn’t respond, hopefully she remembers the header against the post, although strictly speaking I suppose that wasn’t a shot.
I dare to think things aren’t that bad, but then a free-kick is passed to a Norwegian man called Markus Henriksen, who like the villain in some Scandi-noir stabs Town fans’ hearts with a right footed shot past big Bart’. I look to the bench expecting to see Mick McCarthy holding his head like the isolated figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I’d been hoping for a third consecutive goalless draw, and now this. I rally and chant on my own whilst every other Town fan recedes into their customary introspective gloom. Twenty-three minutes have passed and the visiting supporters, of whom there are 290, advise the home supporters that “Your support is fucking shit” as the familiar Welsh hymn goes. They are of course right and I imagine Mick McCarthy would respect their bluntness; no pussyfooting about asking if this is a library. But they know all about libraries in Hull, or Philip Larkin did.
Freddie Sears and Grant Ward dash down the right and cross the ball to an invisible force, which fails to score. Meanwhile down the left not so much happens; Town’s nicely named left-back Jonas Knudsen may be in the Danish international squad, but I can’t be optimistic about a player nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’; less marauding Viking and more appreciation of Soren Kierkegaard and hygge is what’s needed.
Forty minutes pass; referee Mr Jeremy Simpson, the least amusing of Matt Groening’s characters, fails to spot the ball ricochet off a Hull player for a corner to Ipswich and instead play heads north at the feet of the Tigers and a low cross is turned into Ipswich goal net by a young lad by the name of Harry Wilson. Wilson is a player crying out to be managed by the late, great Brian Clough who would doubtless have referred to him as Harold Wilson. The 0-2 score line is enough for some in the North Stand to brush off their copies of The Beachboys’ Pet Sounds and sing along to Track 7 letting Mick McCarthy know that his “…football is shit”. Half-time comes and the expected booing ensues.
In common with the theme for the whole evening, there is no entertainment at half-time. I flick through the glossy but dull programme. Scanning club captain Luke Chamber’s column I see a headline “There is not enough communication and people approaching you to discuss your options. There is no help with planning going forward”. That’s an unusually frank and honest assessment I think, imagining he’s talking about playing for Town; it turns out however that he’s writing about the lack of help and advice the Professional Footballers Association gives to players towards the ends of their careers. Or so he says.


The game begins again and within two minutes Hull City are winning 3-0 as someone called Jarrod Bowen kicks the ball between Bialkowski and his near post. Once again the North Stand let Mick McCarthy know about his stinky football, which seems a bit harsh because I doubt he told the players to just let anyone in a stripey shirt run past them and score, which is what they actually did. But at least the Hull supporters are happy and they ask if they can play us every week; which is nice.
The game is effectively over now and Hull are happy to allow Ipswich to endlessly pass the ball about between themselves, as long as they don’t kick it at their goal, and that is largely what happens. As the ball nears the Hull penalty area someone shouts “Shoot”. The old boy behind me responds “They don’t know the meanin’ of the word” whilst his partner reflects “I reckon that’s all they do up Humber Doucy Lane, keep passing the ball to one another”. Some spectators make their own entertainment, cheering sarcastically with each pass but largely the atmosphere is morose. The chill night air further deadens all feeling and for a few moments I lose myself in the heady smell of the damp turf. Two of the Hull players sport pony tails, which is a bit dated, another is balding and with his bushy beard looks like a member of the Russian royal family or King George V. The Buddleia still grows in the roof of the stand. The attendance is announced as a palindromic 13,031. Just after a quarter past nine Freddie Sears manages a shot, which isn’t very far wide of the goal and draws some applause. When Hull’s Will Keane runs largely unopposed through the defence and forces Bialkowski into a save a ripple of unrest passes through the East of England Co-op stand like a shiver. The old folks behind me leave and there are still eight minutes left of normal time; he says something about watching paint dry.
The final minutes have a slightly new soundtrack as the North Stand sing “Get out of our club, Get out of club, Mick McCarthy, Get out of our club” naturally to that tune for all occasions, Sloop John B. I don’t fully understand why, but in my head I’m singing “If you want a lot of chocolate on your biscuit join our Club”.
Jeremy Simpson is a kind man, irrespective of his poor eyesight and only three minutes of added time are joined on to the usual ninety; once these have expired I am quick to turn and leave, closing my ears to the boos and the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s only a game after all and I’m pleased for Hull; any city that can boast an association with William Wilberforce, Phillip Larkin and Mick Ronson deserves the odd 3-0 away win.

 

 

 

 

LOSC Lille 1 Montpellier HSC 1

After a wet, drizzly afternoon enjoying an exhibition of marionettes at the Hospice Comtesse,

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a rather groovy establishment called ‘The Beerstro’ and then the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle, the Grand Finale is an eight o’clock kick-off at the Stade Pierre Mauroy where LOSC Lille meet Montpellier Hérault in the 29th Journee of Ligue 1. Montpellier sit in 6th position in the twenty-team French league, whilst Lille flounder uncharacteristically just one place off the bottom, battling against relegation. I am with my wife Paulene and after a relaxed, light meal we head for the Gambetta Metro station. It’s a little after six o’clock and as the streets begin to dry with warm air up moving up from the south, so the Lillois are venturing out to drink, to dine and to watch football. At Gambetta station the escalator is out of action and at the foot of the stairs a ticket man greets us; somehow he instantly detects that we are English and calls out over his shoulder “Alain! Ils sont Anglais”. A smiling, balding man in glasses walks over to us “Awright?” he says and we shake hands. He continues to talk to us in English with a strange hint of an estuarine accent; he must have learnt English in Dartford or Thurrock. He explains the system of rechargeable tickets and although the ticket itself costs 0.20E he lets us have one for free and on to this one ticket we add four journeys for the trip to the stadium and back (6.40E). Alain even validates our tickets for us before we thank him and bid “Au revoir” and descend down onto the platform. What a lovely bloke. The driverless trains on the Lille Metro are frequent and one soon draws up alongside the automatic doors at the edge of the platform. We step on and sit at the front of the carriage, a siren sounds, the doors close and we’re soon hurtling along through concrete tunnels beneath the cityOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA above. The stadium is the twelfth stop on our mostly subterranean journey, although it is possible to alight at any of the four stops from Villeneuve d’Ascq onwards and the stadium is still easily walkable. People board and leave the train along the route at Republique Beaux-Arts, Gare Lille-Flandres, Caulier, Fives and Marbrerie, some sport red and navy blue knitwear betraying their support for the local team. Before the end of the line at 4 Cantons

Stade Pierre Mauroy, the train rises out of the ground on to an elevated section and just like the last time I made this journey I am for a minute or two Guy Montag and my wife is Clarisse (Julie Christie) in Francois Truffaut’s film of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. But it soon passes. From the Metro station it’s a ten minute walk to the stadium through a university campus and science park, past the student accommodation called residence Albert Camus; a much cooler name than Essex House, where I lived in my first year at university. It’s dusk and the stadium and its great neon name is visible throughOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the black branches of the trees that line our route. The path then opens out onto a wide bridge across Lille’s peripherique motorway and Stade Pierre Mauroy is directly in front of us. To the left a broad concrete piazza is filled with French football fans, and the smell of chips and hot oil. The sun sets behind the stadium to the left, turning the clouds a blurry red and casting ruddy reflections in the puddles; adding some late colour to what has been a grey day.

It’s northern France; Belgium with added je ne sais crois, but similar quantities of frites and beer. Low buildings face the stadium across the piazza, a parade of fast food outlets and bars. Further on the crowds diminish and we pass a large area set aside for cycle parking. Although the stadium is some way from central Lille, next to the motorway and has masses of covered car parking beneath and around it, the French planners were clearly optimistic for sustainable travel and there are two concrete canopied blocks of covered cycle racks in which I sadly count just two bikes and a bloke having a smoke. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt gate M my wife chooses to go inside, get comfortable and watch the warm ups before the match, but I want to wander about a bit and so we part. I walk around to the ‘front’ of the stadium where it faces the road and the retail park opposite. There is a trailer here from which more chips are being dispensed, the queue of ‘diners’ snakes out of the descending darkness and into the bright light spilling out from above the deep fat fryers.

I walk on, following four members of the Police National, who bristle with shields and kevlar armour. A neon display advertises a future event at the stadium, a concert by the Pink Floyd pensioner, Roger Waters; its title ‘Us and Them’ will seem fateful by the end of the evening. At the ‘corner’ of the stadium is the club shop, red letters spelling out LOSC glow in the windows and fans walking past are silhouetted in its light. Inside the shop, the colour of the club shirt, red, is overwhelming; the colour red is everywhere it seems,

WW2 night-time bomber pilots could have spent time in here to improve their night vision. But to me there is more than a hint of the subcutaneous, of viscera; this is the sort of place to give a sensitive person like me nightmares. Feeling queasy I head back outside for the fresh air and then re-trace my steps back to gate M where after the customary patting down I pass through the automatic, bar-code operated turnstile, pick up my free programme and head for my seat. Re-united with Mrs Brooks I study the sixteen-page A5 size glossy programme, which contains just three advertisements not directly related to the club. The programme is small and necessarily concise and all the more excellent for that, with everything you need to know, which is really just the squads, the league table and details of the next match. If you crave extraneous information such as forward Anwar El Ghazi’s recipe for lentil soup then there is a fortnightly club paper available in the club shop, ‘LOSC in the City’, which is also free. As I read, a superannuated looking band perform live from the side of the pitch. I think they’re playing the Sex Pistol’s ‘Problems’ but Paulene tells me it’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I’m a bit disappointed to be honest and they’re rocked-up version of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ doesn’t please me either , but to my possible shame in these modern times, they’re next number, Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, makes me smile. My reading and musical reverie however, is disturbed by a large bang and some chanting from outside the ground; I had seen on the local TV station that there was to be demonstration by supporters before the game because of the poor performance of the team this season, and this must be it. I walk out to the back of the stand to witness through the mesh wall and some acrid smoke a couple of hundred fans following a bloke holding aloft a red flare; more firecrackers go off and there is some chanting; excitement over I return to my seat. Many of the other seats in the stadium are still unoccupied, particularly those on the Virage Est (East Stand) that the Lille Ultras occupy. It is soon evident however, that the ultras were the protestors as the Virage Est sees a torrent of flag waving humanity flood towards the back of the goal.

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Meanwhile a female announcer gees up the crowd with some disco music and a dance-camOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA shows supporters boogeying insanely on the big screen above the Virage Est. People seem to be enjoying themselves, at a football match, which hasn’t even started yet. On the pitch everything is being set up for the grand entry of the teams. Ball boys in orange shirts are camped across the centre circle, the Ligue 1 logo is carried out and put into place along with the sponsor’s logo (Conforama – a furniture retailer) and the match ball is placed on a plinth.

Banners featuring the club badges flank the ball and plinth and another banner displaying the Ligue 1 logo and then more banners are marched on to the field, these are red and bear the squad numbers and a photos of the players in tonight’s Lille team. As if all these banners aren’t enough a short film is played on the big screen which follows a journey around the city of Lille and shows images of LOSC players projected onto its most notable sites and buildings, culminating in all the players being projected on to the Stade Pierre Mauroy. It is a mightily impressive little film and conveys brilliantly the ideal of the club and the city and its people as one, I am not a little moved by all it all and wish for a day when I see something like it in Ipswich. We shouldn’t be leaving the EU we should be saying can we forget about ‘being English’ and instead be French, or German, or Italian or even Belgian. The final act of the pre-match rituals is the singing of the club song, to the tune of Amazing Grace.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The words appear on the giant screen and the singing hasn’t finished before referee Monsieur Sebastien Moreira, a stocky bald man, signals the start of the game. Montpellier in all white with pale orange shoulders have the first kick, in the direction of the Virage Est but it’s as if they are mesmerised by the club song, they pass the ball about and then as the song melts away immediately lose possession. That strange musically accompanied start aside, It’s an exciting start to the game with both teams dashing towards their opponent’s goal at every opportunity. Montpellier’s 19 year old Jonathan Ikone, a loanee from Paris St Germain, leads the charge and his team dominate the early possession, understandably believing that against the team second from bottom in the league, they are bound to score if they keep pressing. A Montpellier shot is soon saved by Mike Maignan, Lille’s goalkeeper. Montpellier are good to watch, they’re fast and direct even if most attacks break down before anyone has a shot. Lille burst forward when they can, particularly through Algerian Yassine Benzia who has the facial hair of a swarthy Mr Pickwick and his arms look unusually long; he is also the first player to be cautioned by referee Monsieur Moreira. Montpellier’s Ellyes Shkiri is injured and replaced by Saloman Sambia, but their forty year old Brazilian captain

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Vittorino Hilton

Vittorino Hilton, a veteran even six years ago when Montpellier won Ligue 1, plays on. Although the early excitement dies down a little as defences settle into their roles the Ultras behind both goals never waver and give constant support, their beating drums being the beating heart and rhythm of the match. Each ends sings their own songs, and then call to one another down the pitch. It sounds marvellous, even though the Ultras make up no more than five thousand in a crowd of 28,609 in a stadium that holds nearly twice that number . With less than five minutes until half-time, Yassine Benzia surges forward again for Lille, running at the centre of the Montpellier defence. Leaving two, then three Montpellierians in his wake Benzia pushes the ball forward into the path of Nicholas Pepe who is sprinting into the penalty area. Pepe takes a touch and then sweeps the ball past Benjamin Lecomte in the Montpellier goal. A fast, incisive if slightly unexpected goal. Pepe runs to the corner of the pitch and salutes no one in particular in the way that players like to do nowadays, but then he’s only a young lad of twenty-two. Half-time comes and two teams of boys, one in all white and one in all black, take to the field to participate in something called the Orange Football Challenge; it’s a shoot-out which at first is a non-event as none of the boys is capable of scoring , but eventually one team wins, I think. Both teams get their photo taken in the centre circle before another competition takes place in the far goal as three blokes try to hit the cross-bar with a single kick of the ball from 20 metres. The first contestant steps up and casually succeeds, winning 500Euros in cash as a result. Predictably the next bloke doesn’t hit the cross-bar, although he’s not too far off, whilst the third slips over and shanks his shot along the grounds six metres wide of the goal. He may never be able to watch or participate in football ever again. As the players return to the field for the second half a camera man sets up in front of us to film people in the crowd who will then appear on the giant screen; as if being at the match isn’t enough you have to be able to see yourself and be seen at the match by other people at the match, although they have actually only come to watch the match; Jean Baudrillard might have something to say about it or may be Michel Foucault. Montpellier run at the Lille defence form the start with chunky Jerome Roussillon attacking down the left and Paul Lasne down the right. It’s about twenty minutes past eight and Roussillon receives the ball some 20 metres or more from goal; he reacts instantly and dispatches a hard, low shot between the outstretched arm of Mike Maignan and the right hand post of the goal. Montpellier have a deserved equaliser, which their small knot of fans high up in the corner of the stadiumOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA also deserve for having made the 972 kilometre road trip; it’s no wonder there aren’t many of them, but equally a wonder there are as many as there are. No one boos, despite the dire loss of a winning position and behind the goals the Ultras maintain their support. On the touchline the Montpellier coach Michel Der Zakarian looks thoughtful, stroking his chin in his skinny legged tracky bottoms and shapeless black coat. The Lille coach Christophe Galtier moves between his seat in the stand and the technical area, he wears shiny shoes and a dark suit; he steps out of the technical area and onto the pitch at one point when play has stopped for an injured player and is admonished by the fourth official. Galtier waves his arms about in frustration and as he turns to go back to his seat gestures at the official as if to say ‘fuck you’. My wife likes Christophe Galtier; he’s very French.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There are three minutes added on time in which both sides press forward seeking the winning goal, but neither finds it. Monsieur Moreira blows the final whistle and almost instantly supporters from the Virage Est begin to run onto the pitch and towards the players tunnel and the seats where the directors and officials are sat. More and more supporters pour onto the field; one or two approach Lille players with a look of complaint. The referee and his assistants are the first down the tunnel. A large crowd has gathered but a cordon of stewards has quickly formed creating a semi-circle around the mouth of the tunnel. Whilst most of the people on the pitch are facing the main stand and chanting something like “ If the club goes down , then you go down” at the club officials, there are a few who are taking selfies with the handful of Montpellier players stranded on the pitch as they went over to applaud their supporters. Scenes like this always look uglier than they are and whilst there are a few kicks and scuffles as stewards feel the need to man-handle some people, the cordon of stewards around the tunnel has controlled the situation. For a football tourist like me local difficulties like this just add to the entertainment, but I do wonder what the point is of these demonstrations. The supporters didn’t complain when the new regime at the club installed previously well-respected Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa and backed him with an overhaul of the squad. Bielsa had been a fabled legend at Marseille but his short tenure at Lille was a disaster and he was first suspended and then sacked as the newly assembled team failed to perform with Lille slumping into the relegation places from early in the season. Watching people stood on the pitch not playing football is only entertaining for a short while and not wanting boredom to spoil what had been an entertaining evening we decide to head back to the Metro of Montag, Julie Christie and Alain.

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