Ipswich Town 1 Arsenal 0 – Our Blue Heaven

It’s Saturday May 6th 1978, I will be eighteen in about seven weeks’ time and today I am going to the FA Cup final. I am going with my dad; we were two of the 24,207 who saw Town beat Hartlepool United in the fourth round of the FA Cup and the 29,532 who witnessed the 3-0 win in the fifth round replay against Bristol Rovers; we went to the semi-final at Highbury on a supporters’ coach from Shotley. We saw Landskrona Bois, Las Palmas and Barcelona at Portman Road back in the autumn and have seen about a dozen league games on top of that, so we had the requisite vouchers to get tickets for the final. But this morning my father has woken up feeling unwell; he doesn’t think he’ll be up to going to Wembley and so for my friend Tim who lives five doors away, it’s his lucky day. I walk along the street, knock on his front door and ask if he wants to come to the FA Cup final; he does. Tim’s dad Charlie will this evening deliver a bottle of sherry by way of a thank you.
I listen to a few selected tracks from Blondie’s first album ‘Blondie’ (released in December 1976 )as I get ready to go; ‘Look good in Blue’ seems apposite this bright morning as does ‘In the sun’ with its lyric “In the sun , we’re gonna have some fun”. We get to Ipswich railway station somehow; on the 202 bus, or does someone give us a lift? Ticket to WembleyFrom Ipswich we are on a special chartered train that turns right at Stratford and plots a course through north London round to Wembley Central. In Wembley Stadium the terrace steps at the tunnel end are much bigger and steeper than those in Churchman’s or in front of the East Stand, blue and white abounds. The sun shines and Arsenal, wearing yellow and blue, kick off with Ipswich playing towards that blue and white tunnel end. Paul Mariner hits the cross bar, John Wark twice shoots against a post, Pat Jennings saves acrobatically from George Burley, Paul Mariner misses, bigmouth Malcolm McDonald is rubbish, Clive Woods is brilliant, David Geddes crosses, Willie Young is a lumbering donkey, Roger Osborne scores, we cheer, we sing, Roger Osborne is substituted for Mick Lambert, Town win and Mick Mills lifts the FA Cup and turns to show it to us.
Back at Wembley Central railway station after the match a half-brick or a stone bounces off the window of our train as we wait to depart back to Ipswich. Arriving back in Ipswich, Tim and I celebrate with a couple of pints of Tolly Cobbold bitter in the Railway Tavern on Burrell Road as we wait for a lift home in Tim’s dad’s green Morris Minor 1000.

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Forty years and eighteen days later it’s a dank evening in Ipswich, I have been to work, visited my mum, parked up in Portman Road and arrived at the New Wolsey theatre, which didn’t exist in 1978, although there was repertory theatre in Tower Street. I am with my wife Paulene. My father has been dead for nine years, happily his cause of death was unrelated to his illness of 6th May 1978, he enjoyed almost 21 years of good health subsequent to that and made it to the UEFA Cup final second leg in Amsterdam. Tim now lives in Weymouth and oddly he still only gets to see the Town when I get him a ticket (this season we went to Brentford). The Railway Tavern has been demolished; the green Morris Minor was scrapped long ago. But the name of Ipswich Town is still inscribed on the plinth of the FA Cup.
My seat at the Wolsey theatre tonight is in the front row of the auditorium, my wife Paulene is sat in the row behind; she sat behind to give me more legroom. The production is so popular we couldn’t get two seats together. We are the first people in the auditorium, Paulene’s asthma means she needs time to acclimatise. I read the programme (£4) and think “Cup final prices”. The stage is just a metre in front of me, the ‘boards’ are under a green covering patterned to look like turf. At the back of the stage a pair of blue doors look like the doors at the back of the old North Stand, above them is a projection of the type of corrugated cladding also redolent of the old North Stand. But there was never a sign that said ‘Welcome to Portman Road’ back then, there isn’t now. Also part of the projection is the old Ipswich Town crest, the slightly imperfect yellow and blue one, which should be restored out of respect to the past and to John Gammage who won the competition to design a distinct crest for the club back in 1972.41429848635_33f2609053_o
I watch the ‘crowd’ as the auditorium fills up to the sounds of assorted 1970’s pop hits, nostalgic but mostly awful. The majority of people here seem to be my age or older, old enough to have witnessed the 1978 Cup final. A few people are sporting blue and white scarves; one man wears a bright red blazer as if he’s just got here from Butlins. In the front row are three young lads, pre-teens, one of them wears a parka which lends an unexpected layer of 1970’s authenticity. Paulene says she feels cold, I say if I’d known she was going to I would have brought a blue and white bobble hat for her.
The lights dim and tonight’s performance of ‘Our Blue Heaven’ begins with Blondie’s “Hanging on the telephone” played live as the soundtrack to a domestic scene in which a young couple, Mel and Scott arrange their wedding for Saturday 6th May 1978, and then the draw for the third round of the FA Cup is announced. I resist the temptation to put my hand up to point that Blondie’s Parallel Lines album, from which ‘Hanging on the telephone’ was taken as a single would not be released until September 1978. I am not really a pedant and whilst I may not always like it, I do understand the concept of artistic licence and have been known to use it myself; I deny all accusations that it was merely lying.
Mel’s sister Sue is a dedicated and faithful Town fan and from the start foresees that she will want to be at Wembley on May 6th. Meanwhile, in a parallel story Smudger and Ange are awaiting their first child, with Ange’s ‘expected date of confinement’ surprisingly enough being 6th May, although the nurse at the hospital, who happens to be Mel and Sue’s mum Sheila tells them that babies never arrive on time. Smudger is as committed a Town fan as Sue and is predictably torn between his love for the Town and supporting his wife.
The simple domesticity portrayed is all a bit ‘Play for Today’, particularly when it transpires that Mel and Sue’s dad Paul is a striking fireman, whilst Scott’s dad Brian is a Thatcherite policeman; and that just adds to the authenticity and feel that it is 1978. I am transported back in time on a wave of Nostalgia (from the Buzzcocks Love Bites album and like Blondie’s Parallel Lines, also not released until September 1978, but also sadly not in the show).
Scenes from the two families’ stories are spliced with Town’s progress through each round of the FA Cup introduced by popular songs of the time, Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, Patti Smith’s ‘Because the night’, something or other by the Bee Gees. For the sixth round trip to Millwall the band plays the Clash’s London Calling, at which point I really do want to put my hand up because the Clash’s album was not released until December1979, a whole 20 months later. I only hold back when London Calling runs into White Riot, which is much more temporally authentic having been released as a single in March 1977, and a cracking tune to boot.
For each match a group of male and female dancers act out the crucial on-pitch events to the background of the songs and a BBC radio style commentary. My friend Gary texted me before the performance to tell me there was just one thing he did not like about the production and later he will tell me that it was the football sequences. Re-creating football well is notoriously difficult to do, as proven by awful films such as Yesterday’s Hero, in which incidentally the football sequences were filmed at half-time during a game at Portman Road; this is why I don’t consider that the director really bothered to do so. The dancers don’t look like footballers and they are only dancing, creating an impression through movement; they could have been supporters recreating the goals, children doing so in the school playground, and that is authentic. So Gary, you are wrong and need to brush up on your critiquing skills.
The intertwined stories of the families and the FA Cup run are good ones, there is drama, pathos, human emotion aplenty, humour and of course a happy ending. But the thread that runs through the production is the character of Bobby Robson who intermittently comes on to the stage like some sort of visiting angel wearing a series of 1970’s style suits and coats, imparting words of wisdom and assorted homilies about football and the wider experience of our lives beyond. As if this isn’t enough, the actor playing him, Peter Peverley does so brilliantly, better even than Michael Sheen’s rendering of Brian Clough in The Damned United. Peverley has the accent which is easy enough, and he has perfected the mannerisms too, but more than that he has captured the slight hoarseness in the voice, it’s almost uncanny. He wears a pretty bad wig though.
The finale to the production has the marriage, the birth and the FA Cup final taking place on stage simultaneously following the singing of Abide With Me, the Cup final hymn since 1927; a maudlin little number but a cracker nevertheless because it is the Cup final hymn and has been marinated in 90 years of Cup final history. Being sat right at the front, my view is now partly obscured by some of the on stage props, so I watch the audience. People who know the words sing along with Abide With Me, whilst others hold their scarves aloft. It is likely that many of the people here, like me were at the Cup final in May 1978 and are part of the story, but this makes people feel involved all over again, it’s nostalgia with knobs on, re-enacting the past, albeit part fictional, but this is somehow how it felt.
The story ends and it truly feels like Town have won the FA Cup all over again, and then Roger Osborne, the personification of the day because he scored the winning goal enters the stage, inevitably to a standing ovation. The ultimate finale however, comes with the cast all assembled on stage with Bobby Robson leading us in a sing-song, some Cup final community singing of our own; a rousing rendition of Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown. It’s bloody marvellous and everything that matches at Portman Road no longer seem to be, utterly joyous. I give it my all.
I have had a most marvellous evening and for much of it I am not ashamed to admit I have had a tear in my eye. I have been taken back in time, but don’t know if I’m tearful for my lost youth and the passing of the days when Ipswich Town was such a wonderful football club and team, and when the FA Cup was something that really mattered, or if these are tears of joy and happiness, for a love of my team and a sense of belonging that has been re-kindled.
Nostalgia is warm and cosy, but it’s not a healthy thing, because we cannot go back and we have to live in the present; but tonight after watching Our Blue Heaven I genuinely feel uplifted.
My name is Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown
I’m a football supporter of Ipswich Town
Wherever they play, you’ll find me
I haven’t missed a game since I was three
With me scarf and me rattle and me big rosette
Singing where was the goalie when the ball went in the net
Follow the Town
Up or Down
I’m Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown but everybody calls me Ted.

Football, Football,
Whose the greatest of them all,
Let’s put it to the test
Come to Portman Road on a Saturday and you’ll see the best
Oi!
Ipswich! Ipswich! Come On The Town!
Ipswich! Ipswich! Come On The Town!

My name is Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown
I’m a football supporter of Ipswich Town
Wherever they play, you’ll find me
I haven’t missed a game since I was three
With me scarf and me rattle and me big rosette
Singing where was the goalie when the ball went in the net
Follow the Town
Up or Down
I’m Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown but everybody calls me Ted.

2-4-6-8 who de we appreciate?
It isn’t hard to tell
Just you take a closer look at me
And you’ll know darn well
Oi
Ipswich! Ipswich! Come On The Town!
Ipswich! Ipswich! Come On The Town!

La la la
La lala la lala lalala
Lala lalala la lala lalala
La lalala lalala, and lots more lalalaing, you get the picture ?

 

AS Fabregues 0 Canet Rousillon 2

Fabregues is a very attractive small town about 10 kilometres southwest of Montpellier in the Hérault department of southern France. The town has a population of fewer than 7,000 but has a history dating back a thousand years, the centre being set out in a pattern of concentric circles around the church or chateau, a form of early medieval urban development known as a circulade. The town’s history probably goes back further to the Gallo-Roman era as the name Fabregues being derived from a Latin word meaning forges.
The Stade Joseph Jeanton is a part of a sports complex dating from 1993 that sits on the other side of the River Coulazu from the medieval town of Fabregues and it is here that my wife and I arrive today with a half an hour to spare before the kick-off of the match between Fabregues and Canet Roussillon in National Ligue 3, the fifth tier of French football, which is amateur, although the professional teams play reserve or ‘B’ teams in it. We park up in the neatly laid out car park which is landscaped with trees and shrubs and then walk through a metal gate to a wooden hut where we pay the 5 euros each admission fee. The Stade Joseph Jeanton is much like most other small town football grounds in France; a pitch surrounded by a high metal fence and a single stand affording a decent view of the pitch.

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The teams and referees are warming up as we walk behind one goal and round towards

the stand and buvette. I am impressed that one of the goalkeeping coaches is a woman and can’t imagine that many if any men’s teams in England have a female coach. The FA and English football in general really needs to get with the programme. We stop to ask three men in their sixties or seventies which team is which. One of them speaks a little English which he is keen to practice and he seems impressed that we have come to see Fabregues, which he describes as a good little club. At the buvette I buy a bottle of water (1 euro) and pick up a copy of the club’s directory. It is mostly adverts for local businesses, but contains details of every team in the club from the under 6 and 7’s up to the seniors. There is a statement from the president setting out the aims of the club and the overall impression is of the club being an important and well-run focus for the local community.
It is a warm afternoon and a strong breeze stretches white clouds out across the blue sky. We climb up into the stand and look out over the pitch towards the pink roof tops of 36538176213_715c21d13e_ocirculade and the old town. This is a pleasant spot to spend the afternoon it seems. Below us the referee (Monsieur Gauthier Lapalu) and his assistants (Monsieurs Jeremy Noiret and Maximilien Demoustier) are warming up, the referee looks very young, very neat and very enthusiastic, too enthusiastic and a little officious perhaps. He seems to want to organise his assistants overly and they don’t look that impressed.
Kick-off is scheduled for 3 pm but the teams aren’t on the pitch yet, although we can see them waiting at the mouth of the players’ tunnel, everyone seems to be waiting for the referee. Eventually, after the usual introductions, Canet Rousillon, from the town of Canet some 35 to 40 kilometres to the west, kick off in their white shirts with black shorts and socks; Fabregues wear all red. The first foul is committed after about five minutes and Monsieur Lapalu quickly airs his yellow card and then takes time to explain his decision to the Fabregues bench who are perhaps miffed, and understandably so because it wasn’t much of a foul. Five minutes later a Canet player is booked, but justifiably this time. It takes another fifteen minutes for Monsieur to get his hat-trick of cards.
This is a poor game. It may be because the afternoon is still warm, but the players aren’t running about much. One or two like to run with the ball, particularly the Fabregues number eleven, who is quite good at it, but there is not much running off the ball so there is seldom anyone to pass to near the opposition penalty area and therefore there are no shots on goal to speak of, except for optimistic long range ones. In addition, the players of both teams like to fall over and scream as if fatally wounded and Monsieur Lapalu is proving to be quite fussy and precise; he runs like Forrest Gump and his shorts fit too snugly, like his mum has cut down a pair of trousers from a dark suit.
Fabregues make a first-half substitution and the substitute adjusts his hair carefully before coming on, appearing to arrange his top-notch like the leaves on top of a carrot. But the substitute claims the distinction of being the first player to have a shot worthy of the name, in first half injury time.
With half-time we leave the stand to get out of the sun and the breeze, and to get away from the body spray of the young man next to me, which smells like pine disinfectant. This stadium has advertisement hoardings and they remind me of those at Eastern Counties League grounds. There is one for a Pompe Funèbre (undertaker) and one for Auto Ecole Thierry (Terry’s Driving School) as well as one for Pub Resto O’Papa Chico, which sounds like an Irish, Mexican pub. The local butcher, Bouchère des Beaux-Arts sounds a step up from an English pub meat raffle, but in a country that takes food seriously, such a name is probably not pretentious.
For the second half of the match we stand, peering through the fence from the opposite side of the ground to the main stand, where we are shielded from the wind by a hedge.

The second half starts well as the first discernible passing move of the game in an opponent’s half results in the Fabregues goalkeeper diving at the feet of the Canet number seven, to make a decent save. Just a minute later Canet’s number eight collapses to the turf inside the Fabregues penalty area and a penalty kick is awarded by Monsieur Lapalu. It seems a trifle harsh, but Monsieur Lapalu takes so long ensuring that no ones’ toes are in the penalty area that the number eight has far too long to think about his kick and when he eventually takes it, it provides a relatively easy save for the Fabregues ‘keeper, who dives to his right and smothers the ball completely to keep the scores level.
The game now enters a ridiculous stage where players fall like nine pins every few seconds; any physical contact apparently leads to mortal injury. The best moment is when three players come together and all three end up lying on the ground pleading for attention. If the Keystone Cops had played football it would have looked like this. It is at once both amusing and pathetic. The game is stopped and miraculously all three players recover to carry on. A banger goes off in the bushes close to where we are stood; everyone ignores it although some teenage girls trying their best to look innocent look like they might know who was responsible.
With an hour gone Canet somewhat surprisingly take the lead. The ball lands at the feet of their number ten; he shoots and the ball is saved, but the rebound bounces off him and into the net, although he may have adjusted his feet quickly enough to ensure the direction of the rebound was goal-wards rather than anywhere else. A good number of Canet supporters in the main stand celebrate. A second banger goes off in the bushes close to where we are stood and there is a delay as Monsieur Lapalu checks with his assistant that all is okay; he indicates that his ears are ringing a bit but otherwise he is fine. Monsieur Lapalu then checks with the Délègue Principal monsieur Jean Pierre Jullian, but carries on with the re-start. Fabregues are stung into action and are unlucky to have a goal disallowed five minutes later for offside when the ball was possibly heading into the net without the extra touch from the offside player. I detect the scent of cannabis on the breeze, but can understand why people watching this game may seek solace in illicit drugs.
There is about a quarter of an hour left and Canet’s number nine lofts the ball onto the roof of the goal net as his team hit Fabregues on the break. Two minutes later Fabregues’ number five stretches out a leg to win the ball, he does so, but he then catches his opponent too and Monsieur Lapalu deems this a foul and cautions number five for a second time this afternoon resulting in his sending off. To his credit number five does not complain, although having won the ball he probably had cause to. Monsieur Lapalu goes on to also caution Fabregues’ number three as he organises the human wall to defend the resulting free-kick.
Fabregues continue to search in vain for an equaliser and they seem more capable and energetic now that the sun is lower in the sky, casting a long shadow over the pitch from the adjacent sports hall. But with four minutes of normal time remaining Canet hit them on the break again as their number 10 feeds the ball beyond the Fabregues full-back for the moustachioed number two to run on to. The Clark Gable look-alike rounds the goalkeeper and scores. Canet celebrate wildly whilst Fabregues cannot believe they have conceded a goal to a bloke with a moustache.
The result is assured now and Canet almost claim an undeserved third goal as number nine strikes the ball against the cross bar. Monsieur Lapalu even seems to have lost interest a little and has seemingly relaxed his grip on the proceedings. Only two minutes added time are played, which is a relief for everyone. Canet and their supporters celebrate noisily again as the final whistle blows.
This has been a poor game, perhaps the worst I have ever seen in France. It is a shame because the Fabregues club appears to be such a well-run, ideal community based club; but I guess all teams have off days. I hope this was one of those days for both teams, because even though Canet won, they were terrible too. Monsieur Lapalu should also learn from this game too and we will look out for this name in Ligue 1 in may be ten years’ time.

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Havre AC 2 Tours FC 0

It is Friday 11th May and tonight the 38th and final round of matches will be played in the French second division, known as Ligue 2, which despite the French reputation for gastronomy is sponsored by Domino’s Pizza. Tours have already been relegated to the Ligue National having been bottom of the league for much of the season. Le Havre, known as HAC, by contrast, have been within striking distance of les barrages (play-offs) positions for much of the season and a good recent run finds them in fifth place and needing a win to ensure that they will play in les barrages.
My wife Paulene and I arrived in Le Havre on Wednesday afternoon and bought our tickets (10 Euros each) at the smaller of two club shops, the one in the Place Perret in the centre of the city (the larger shop is in the Docks Vauban shopping mall, about 15 minutes away on foot). There is no longer a ticket office or club shop at the Stade Océane where HAC play their home matches, although guichets do open there on the evening of the match. Place Perret is named after the architect whose practice was charged with rebuilding Le Havre after a phenomenal 80% of it was destroyed by allied bombing in 1944. Perret was a great advocate of concrete construction and his planned city centre with its wide boulevards, massive city square and classically inspired concrete buildings is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking its streets is like being in an idyllic 1950’s vision of the city of the future.

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The Stade Océane is at the very edge of what is a sprawling city, with its vast docks strung along the mouth of the River Seine.  The HAC website refers to shuttle buses (navettes) that run from the city centre to the stadium but it doesn’t provide details.  The bloke in the club shop didn’t seem to know anything about the navettes, disappointingly recommending travelling by car; nor did the woman at the Tourist Information centre, although she was able to supply a bus map and timetable for the regular service that passes close to the stadium.  The HAC website does however provide a link to the website of CODAH (Communauté de l’agglomération havraise) the local public transport undertaking who provide the free navettes and where I learn that buses will run every forty minutes from Quai D (stand D) of the bus station (gare routier) beginning at 6.30pm.  After the match four separate routes will run to various destinations across the city.41233756055_f38c51250b_o
Although kick-off is not until 8:45pm we are perhaps over keen and are waiting at the bus station at 6.30 where a handful of people including a nerdish looking youth in a HAC tracksuit top are already hanging around Quai D. A white Mercedes bus swings onto the stand and first in the queue is a small boy who climbs aboard and stretches up to hug the driver, who it seems is his dad. Pausing briefly to go “awww” we board the bus and after waiting a few minutes, during which time no one else boards the bus who hadn’t already been waiting for it, we set off. The journey takes us through some less salubrious areas of the city, close to the docks through streets that might be termed both ‘gritty’ and ‘urban’ amongst other things.
The journey takes about 15 minutes at the end of which we are dropped off next to some tenement blocks beyond which, across a railway track and grey concrete open space is the amazing, bright blue Stade Océane, which looks like an enormous beached rubber dinghy. A few fans wait by the entrance to a subterranean world into which the team coaches will soon descend, but we ascend a flight of steps to the concourse around theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ground where not much is happening. A friendly faced man in the mobile club shop speaks to the nerd from earlier and then peers out in vain for customers who don’t think he is selling ice creams. I take a look OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAat his stock and he tries to convince me to buy a scarf; I tell him I already have a petit fanion (pennant) from the shop in town and this seems to satisfy him. He asks me who my team are in England and is complimentary when I say it is Ipswich Town, revealing that his knowledge of the English game is perhaps not up to date.
We hang about waiting for the turnstiles to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAopen. Some people arrive and buy tickets at the guichets where club employees arrange plastic barriers and then take them away again. The huge car park beyond the stadium fills up slowly with a trickle of cars from the main road that runs close by. Children are being admitted free tonight and school parties gather at the south end of the stadium, where more barriers snake a path to the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAturnstiles. As we lean against a concrete wall two young women hand out free copies of the A4 sized, glossy four page match programme. There is a hot food van with the rather wonderful name of Friterie Momo parked on the concourse, providing a supply of massive cartons full of chips and sausage-filled baguettes (7 euros) to an increasing queue of casual diners. I wouldn’t usually eat this in England so see no reason to eat it in France, although it is likely to taste better, but I do buy a 500 ml can of Ch’ti Blonde (4 euros) the local beer of Pas de Calais and Picardie, which at 6.4% alcohol could probably not legally be sold at a football ground in England. But French people will drink one can of Ch’ti, English people would try and drink eight or ten.


Eventually the turnstiles open; they are automatic and read the barcodes on the tickets, but entry to the stadium is not speedy because once through the turnstiles everyone has to be patted down. Then the turnstiles go haywire as the barcode readers stop working, but it doesn’t matter because people are already backed up at the security check. Happily the turnstiles begin to work again and we are both into the stadium and up the steps to the upper tier; we make our way to as near to the half way line as we can get. It is a ‘sit where you like night’ tonight in this part of the stadium because there will be displaced supporters from behind the north goal where the seats will remain empty after fans threw objects onto the pitch during the recent derby match with Quevilly-Rouen.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Stade Océane is only six years old, it cost 80 million euros, it has a few more than 25,000 seats and the two I sit in were more comfortable, spacious and felt much more solid than the average football stadium seat; they even have a smooth spring action to tip up. I sit in two different seats because the bloke just along from my first seat is puffing an e-cigarette, which emits clouds of sickly fruit scented vapour that make me feel slightly ill; he also has quite a pungent body spray so it is doubly necessary to move a bit further away. I can’t believe that his natural smell was so bad that he had to go to such desperate lengths to cover it up.
The players warm up on the pitch as the ground fills up; eventually the ground will be almost exactly half full, which with a nice sense of numerical symmetry is about twice as full as it is has been for most Ligue 2 games this season. The teams are introduced in the customary French manner with the stadium announcer providing players’ first names and the crowd shouting out their surnames, it’s a lot of fun but I don’t think it would work as well with English surnames. Banners display the club crests and the teams enter

the arena. There is a band of ultras in one corner at the southern end of the ground they wave flags and then sing the national anthem, the British national anthem, which for Le Havre is the club song. (https://youtu.be/Wy2MhV8sFyw) Havre Athletic Club is France’s oldest football club, founded in 1872 by a bunch of Englishmen from Oxford and Cambridge universities, so possibly a Tory cabinet, and this English connection explains the use of Thomas Arne’s tune.
Le Havre kick-off the match towards the empty Tribune Nord wearing what is possibly an Oxbridge inspired kit of Cambridge blue and Oxford blue quarters with Oxford blue shorts and socks. Alternatively, the two blues could be of those of the sky and the sea as HAC are known as Ciel et Marine (sky and sea); two things that are prominent in Le Havre and somehow define the city and it situation. Tours meanwhile wear all white, but with blue and white checked sleeves. Havre are quickly on the attack passing the ball zippily on the lush playing surface and soon earn a corner and within four minutes the beautifully named Zinedine Ferhat crosses from the right and Jean-Philippe Mateta sends a fine header into the bottom left hand corner of the Tours goal. Six minutes later and a precise through ball from Jean-Pascal Fontaine precedes a right foot shot from Mateta and Havre are winning two-nil, with Tours having explained graphically why they are bottom of the league. That’s all that needs to happen this evening, if Havre can keep the score as it is they will be in les barrages. To an extent it seems that they realise this and after such an exciting opening ten minutes the game settles down to be not quite so exciting.
It takes twenty minutes for Tours to have a shot and despite the score the Le Havre supporters don’t seem overly thrilled; perhaps they are not wanting to tempt fate by celebrating too soon. The ultras provide another rendition of the club song, but the most interesting development is in the stand where some people complain to a steward about

two blokes who are stood at the top of the steps watching the game. The young steward is pressured into asking them to sit down or at least move because it seems they are blocking the view, which they may well be. The older of the men, who looks well in his fifties gesticulates and argues but eventually moves, walking past his accusers and jabbing his index figure at them angrily; it’s marginally more entertaining than the match, although Tours are now having more shots and their Baptiste Etcheverria is booked by referee Monsieur Olivier Thual for a rather violent assault on the impressive Zinedine Ferhat. Meanwhile, the other man who had been ‘outted’ for standing moves to stand at the side of the stairs and lights a cigarette.
All around the open sections of the ground there are people standing in the area at the

back of the lower tier, and skulking in the Tribune Sud behind the completely empty away supporters’ area are masses of police, all just watching the game apparently. I don’t know if the police were expecting Tours fans who never turned up; perhaps they were delayed, but heard the score after nine minutes and decided not to bother; it is a three and a half hour drive after all. With about five minutes to go until half time some rhythmic clapping breaks out and then the ultras sing another burst of ‘God Save The Queen’ as they hold their scarves aloft like English football fans used to before the Premier League spoiled everything.
Half-time arrives and I head downstairs to release some of that Ch’ti that I drank before the match and have since processed as nature demands. Passage downstairs however, is

difficult because bizarrely and surely contrary to safety requirements, the bottom of staircases E3 and E4 are blocked off with Heras fencing. This may be an odd attempt to keep the people who have paid 10 Euros for a seat out of the centre of the stand where normal prices have been charged, but it just has the effect of making people in the cheap seats walk through the central section to get to an open staircase. Down in the lower concourse children are playing on bouncy castles and the light shining through plastic outer ‘skin’ of the stadium creates a bluish hue. At the back of the lower tier people stand and smoke.

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The football returns and the scoreboard encourages the fans to get behind the team; “Faites Du Bruit” it announces, “Make Some Noise”. The ultras obey but no one else much does. On the opposite side of the stadium is the directors box and it amuses me a little that above this are the words “Shopping, Restaurants, Loisirs (leisure)”, as if advertisingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the thoughts of the wealthy people in the seats below. In the players’ tunnel a man in a suit, presumably a club official, lolls casually against the concrete wall with his hand on his hip, perhaps summing up in his casual posture the

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apparent attitude to the ongoing failure tonight to promote supporter safety in the Tribune Est (East Stand) opposite. A procession of people descend the steps of the Tribune Est expecting to be able to go down the staircase to the toilets or buvette, but of course they find the foot of the stairs closed. A small girl gets quite distressed until led away by her older brothers and an elderly man looks equally perplexed when he finds his way barred. There is no easy way to the other staircases except by walking along whole rows of seats and asking people to stand up to let you through. I just hope there is no need to evacuate the stand quickly.
As the game approaches its final minutes, at last a tangible sense of anticipation and excitement returns to supporters other than the ultras. There is clapping and singing and the fans at last seem confident that their team is capable of holding on to a 2-0 lead against the league’s bottom club and despite three minutes of time added on they do. Le Havre qualify for the play-offs where they will be at home to Stade Brestois 29, another club from a great French port that was also bombed heavily by the allies towards the end of World War Two. We leave the supporters to celebrate without us in order to head for the navette, because we’re not sure what time it will leave.
It has been a good night, but a slightly disappointing one nevertheless. The Stade Océane is fabulous, but has not been shown at its best and its management tonight has been nothing short of alarming. Everything is in place for football to be memorable in Le Havre, but the club really needs that promotion.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Paris St Germain 2 Les Herbiers 0

For an Ipswich Town supporter FA Cup ties have become something of a rarity, and more than that, a disappointment. Despite winning the FA Cup itself, albeit forty years ago, (incidentally, only thirty-six of the current ninety-two league clubs have ever won the Cup, and Norwich City are not one of them) Town have failed to honour their past and have not even won an FA Cup tie since 2010, when they triumphed away at Blackpool. Starved of cup glory therefore, the opportunity to go to the final of the French equivalent of the FA Cup, the Coupe de France, is not to be missed. This year the final tie is between the current holders Paris St Germain and Vendee Les Herbiers Football (VHF) a semi-professional team who currently play in the Ligue National, the third tier of French league football. Francophile that I am I ‘signed up’ for e-mails from the Federation Football Française (French Football Association) a couple of seasons ago and my wife, who I shall introduce to you by name shortly is on Paris St Germain’s e-mailing list, so we both received invitations by e-mail to buy tickets for the final. For just 19 Euros each, yes, 19 Euros, about £16.50, we have tickets at the Stade de France for the show piece, end of season finale. I have paid more this season to watch Colchester United versus Morecambe.
My wife, Paulene and I arrived in St Denis in the north of Paris at lunchtime and from

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Basilica St Denis

our hotel room at the Novotel it is possible to see the Stade de France in one direction and in the other the Basilica Cathedral of St Denis, where nearly 1,600 years-worth of French kings and queens including Clovis, Dagobert, Catherine de Medici, Louis XIV, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were all buried. As if that is not enough this is considered to be the building where in the twelfth century all the elements that make up Gothic architecture were brought together for the first time; it is a most beautiful building of remarkable historic significance.

 

After a leisurely visit and a picnic in the nearby Parc de Legion d’Honneur we rest up back at the hotel before making the short walk to the Stade de France. In the hotel lobby Les Herbiers supporters are checking in and making use of the bar.
Today is the May 8th, a national holiday in France marking the liberation of the country from the Nazis in 1945; it is a glorious sunny day with temperatures up in the mid-twenties; one digital display says the temperature is 35 degrees but I’m not sure I believe it. Our approach to the Stade de France is at the end of the stadium where there is a sea of Les Herbiers supporters of all ages dressed up in red and white. Les Herbiers is just a small town with a population of about 16,000 situated in the Vendee department, some 50 kilometres south east of Nantes and almost a four hour journey by road from Paris. Today Les Herbiers and a good few places all around it must be completely empty.
Last night on French TV sports journalists were debating whether this cup final between Paris St Germain, with an annual budget of 340 million Euros, and a semi-professional third division team with an annual budget of 2 million Euros was a good thing or not. Seeing the excitement and joy on the faces of the Les Herbiers supporters leaves me in no doubt that it is a good thing. It does not matter that it is the final and it is a mis-match. Paris St Germain will win because they now win everything, but it will still be the show piece event of the season and both sets of supporters will love every minute of it; also in the scheme of things it doesn’t matter much because there will be another cup final next year, and another the year after that, provided Donald Trump hasn’t finally caused Armageddon.
Security at all the bigger French football matches is reassuringly tight and once patted down we head up the ramp to the concourse that surrounds the Stade de France, a stadium that feels much more spacious and is much more beautiful than Wembley, although it is now twenty years old. Unable to resist acquiring souvenirs of the day, I buy myself a T-shirt (20 Euros) and Paulene a scarf (20 Euros) for which Paulene also learns the French, which is écharpe. There is a while to go before kick-off at five past nine so I get into the spirit of things joining the Les Herbiers supporters with a pint of Carlsberg (8 Euros), the price of which makes me feel that the T-shirt and scarf were massive bargains and I should buy more of them, but I don’t. The beer comes in a re-usable plastic “eco-cup” (2 Euros) of a type seen at many French stadiums and makes me feel much better in the knowledge that even though I have been robbed blind I am helping save the planet. Paulene has a bottle of water (3 Euros).
Paulene is keen to get in the stadium to watch the warm ups and pre-matchOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA entertainment and because she is a chronic asthmatic and will need to recover from the long climb to our seats. For Paulene visits to large stadiums such as Marseille’s Velodrome and the Stade Felix Boleart in Lens have in the past come with near death experiences after ascending staircase after staircase after staircase on a sort of stairway to Heaven. Whilst Paulene climbs, I callously hang around outside, slowly drinking my beer, savouring it as best I can and soaking up the ambiance with smiling, excited and inebriated French people. Eventually I head for the turnstile where I must show both my ticket and passport, the French show their identity cards. The steward seems pleased to see a “Rosbif “ and summons up his best English to say “Welcome”, which is nice. Inside the stadium I am patted down again and wished bon match before being offered a complimentary Pitch choco barre courtesy of a promotion by Brioche Pasquier an industrial French bakery whose products can be found in English supermarkets too.
Our seats are in the third tier of the stadium but are not together, Paulene sits in the second row from the front whilst I am another three or four rows back and off to the right. As I arrive at my seat, on the pitch the final ten minutes of the French FA Youth

 

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Cup for Under 19’s, the Coupe Gambardella, between ESTAC Troyes and Tours FC are being played out. Troyes are winning 2-1 and hang on to lift the trophy amidst scenes of much excitement and generous appreciation for these young players. Although fully professional, Troyes and Tours are relatively small clubs, but in France this is no barrier to producing successful youth teams, a fact illustrated by Auxerre, a town a third the size of Ipswich having won the Coupe Gambardella a record seven times. I sit on the steps next to Paulene and after the presentation of the trophy and ensuing celebrations we watch the stadium gradually filling up until the steward just in front of us asks me to take my seat.
We are amongst the Paris St Germain supporters, although the hard core ultras are in a seemingly dedicated area in the lower tier where a platform is positioned in front of

 

them for the use of the two ultras who will lead and orchestrate the chanting. On the pitch the preparations are being made for the start of the final of the Coup de France and the celebration of French football that this represents. The teams warm up; the PSG players looking comfortable and familiar with the huge stadium, the Les Herbiers players looking slightly in awe of the setting and the vast numbers of their own supporters decked out in red and white; their home crowds in the Ligue National average about 1,300. Les Herbiers wear simple hi-vis jackets over their red tracksuit tops and look every bit the modest, provincial club that they are. The players warm up in a corner in front of their fans as if at a much smaller ground.
At last the scene is set and amidst two teams of drummers behind each goal, four separate formations of flag wavers, a huge circular FFF Coupe de France logo and two similarly massive club badges that all look like they could be used by the fire brigade to catch people jumping from high buildings, a marching band in French blue trousers with tunics decked in gold braid, a suspended image of the Coupe de France trophy and pitchside pyrotechnics the teams emerge from the tunnel. I join in as best I can with the singing of the Marseillaise, which is truly glorious and then the teams are introduced to President Macron who is roundly booed. I exchange amused smiles and raised eyebrows with the white haired bearded man stood next to me who admits he is not really a football fan, he prefers rugby and has just been brought along to the game by his two friends; he is however supporting Les Herbiers and so am I. It’s all absolutely brilliant and the game hasn’t started yet.

 

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We sit and Les Herbiers kick off the match wearing all red and playing towards central Paris, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower; PSG are in their usual all navy blue kit and kicking towards the Cathédrale Basilique St Denis. Les Herbiers start well and within two minutes Joachim Eickmeyer breaks down the left, crosses the ball and Sebastien Flochon’s shot is deflected wide of the goal resulting in a corner from which Valentin Vanbeleghem shoots wide from some 25 metres out. The white-haired man and I applaud conspiratorially. But it doesn’t take long before PSG have two shots from Giovanni Lo Celso and Kylian Mbappé that hit a Les Herbier goal post, the second shot defying physics as its angle of incidence blatantly fails to equal its angle of reflection, instead the ball just bounces right back at him.
Satisfyingly for my white haired friend and me it is PSG’s Yuri Berchiche who is the first player to be booked by referee Mikael Lesage. But such events become crumbs of comfort as PSG predictably dominate and miss chance upon chance with Lo Celso again hitting a goalpost with a shot , although Les Herbiers are in fact playing extremely well, they’re just not as good as PSG. The Ligue National team do not ever resort to aimlessly booting the ball away in blind panic, but always attempt to play the ball from defence by passing it, certain Ipswich Town defenders could perhaps benefit from some coaching from Les Herbiers’ Stephane Masala; does he know there is a job going? He is perhaps one of the few successful managers of a lower league club not so far linked with the job.
Off the pitch, the far end of the stadium is a noisy, constantly choppy, but joyous sea of red and white flags, even when on 26 minutes Giovani Lo Celso surprises me at least by scoring with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area to inevitably give PSG the lead. PSG continue to dominate play but still only lead 1-0 at half-time, when I pop downstairs to buy a bottle of Evian (2.50 Euros) for Paulene.
The second half picks up where the first left off, but for the usual change of ends. Within five minutes it seems PSG have scored again as following a sequence of remarkable deflections and rebounds Mbappé sends the ball into the goal net. The PSG fans and ultras have celebrated the ‘goal’ but apparently under false pretences as following some sort of video conference at the side of the pitch Monsieur Lesage disallows the goal and awards Les Herbiers a free-kick. It is the first time I have witnessed the use of video technology at a match and it feels very odd because of the hiatus it creates; I don’t like it, it doesn’t feel right, although my neighbour and I gleefully cheer the decision nevertheless.
PSG probably dominate the second half more than ever and despite some fantastic saves from Matthieu Pichot in the Les Herbiers goal it eventually all becomes too much and a bit after twenty five to eleven he can’t help but knock over PSG’s Edinson Cavani whoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA scores for the resultant penalty. Pichot is booked by Monsieur Lesage for his efforts but shakes his hand to acknowledge his mistake and show he has no hard feelings; what civilised people the French are.
PSG come close to scoring again more than once in the final minutes but pleasingly Les Herbiers have a late flourish too and both Diaranké Fofana and then substitute Clement Couturier almost beat PSG goalkeeper Kevin Trapp with a snap shot and a run into the penalty box. Finally, after five minutes of time added on however, Monsieur Lesage calls time on the 101st final of the Coupe de France and PSG have won it for a record 12th time. No one seriously thought they wouldn’t, but some of us hoped.
After an overlong wait, the presentation of the trophy follows with much jumping about and littering of the pitch with red, white and blue fluttery material. A massive scrum of photographers surrounds the players who are barely visible in the unseemly melee and the players make their way to the ultras to thank them for their support and to celebrate together. Nobly the vast majority of Les Herbiers supporters stay on to watch also; this is all part of their big day out. With their celebratory juices running dry the players leave the pitch which is covered by protective sheeting in preparation for the finale to the finale a display of fireworks, lights and lasers which says thank you to the 7,160 clubs who entered the Coupe de France this season, almost ten times the number that enter the English FA Cup. Reminders appear on the scoreboard of when the last metro trains leave the two nearest stations to the stadium.

 

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The fireworks display is a fitting end to the evening, although Paulene and I actually thought the one put on by Lille Olympique at the end of their final league match last season was better, but we can be picky like that sometimes. It has been a terrific night for PSG, the Coupe de France, French football and most of all Vendee Les Herbiers Football and its supporters and we didn’t half enjoy it too. Vive La France!

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Ipswich Town 2 Middlesbrough 2

It is Sunday, the day of rest when traditionally, indigenous western Europeans would go to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChristian church services, but nowadays most people just generally laze about if they can and nurse their hangovers. It is wrong therefore that I have to keep looking at the clock in order to be sure I shower and breakfast before twenty to eleven when I will need to catch the train to Ipswich for the final match of the season. Curse the Football League and Sky television and their ridiculous 12:30 kick off, something that could never happen in a civilised country like France where lunch is important. Other than tired, I cannot imagine how Middlesbrough supporters must feel having to travel the best part of three hundred miles to get here from Teesside.
The 10:55 train is on time and generously peopled with Ipswich Town supporters. I sit down on the end of a row of three seats; a sinewy bald man wearing last season’s Town shirt is at the other end; he moves his rucksack off the middle seat as I sit down; he reads a Sunday supplement and then The Economist. Nerd. A gregarious elderly man from Witham gets on at Colchester and walks down the train. He sees the blue shirts and asks “Any true Blues here?” He receives a few grunted acknowledgements “Haha, well done!” he says and then sits down. Seeing a lad in a Town shirt on the next set of seats he gets up again and asks “How far have you come for the match today then?” The boy answers “Braintree.” The old man laughs. “Ha, ha Braintree!” he says “ ‘orrible sodding place isn’t it? ”
It is a glorious sunny day and in Ipswich Middlesbrough supporters are gathered in the

beer garden of the Station Hotel, a pub which will miss the football season and the regular visitations from people from other towns and cities intent on enjoying a day out. Portman Road is busy, the turnstiles are open, I buy a programme (£3) and consider that people will eat burgers at any time of day. Up on St Matthews Street St Jude’s Tavern is not very busy. I purchase a pint of the Match Day Special, which today is St.Jude’s St Clements (£2.50) a light beer with a hint of a tang of orange citrus; ideal on a hot day like today. A man speaks to me who seems to know me, I have no idea who he is, he even sits at the table where I am sat. I am soon also joined by Ollie however, a much younger man and work colleague. I have a ticket for Ollie which he has purchased from Roly for a knock down price of a tenner, because Roly has a fortieth birthday bash to attend on the Norfolk Broads. Ollie offers to buy me another drink, but I decline. Ollie has a pint of the match day special too.
At about five past twelve we head for Portman Road bidding farewell to the jolly landlord who wishes us “Bon match” except in English. I enter the stadium to the strains of “Living on a prayer” by Bon Jovi, a depressing song, both because it is awful and because it recalls 1986 the year Ipswich Town were relegated from the first division and the long decline began. My first port of call is the toilet where, with a bloke stood at either end of the urinal a third man annoys me by standing in the middle with no room either side of him.
Having recovered my composure I take to a seat a row or two in front of Pat from Clacton and next to ever-present Phil, who hasn’t missed a game in 30 years and his son Elwood. The teams aren’t out yet but a guard of honour of youngsters with flags lines the

way from the players’ tunnel. Crazee the mascot is heroically waving a much larger flag, a bit like Liberty Leading the People in Delacroix’s painting depicting the revolution of 1830, although I doubt many other people think so and Crazee hasn’t bared his breasts either. A woman at the front of the stand wearing a strapless top which looks like it has been partly torn off her could possibly fill in at any moment, if required.
Rapture and applause for the conquering heroes of Reading out of the way the game begins. Town kick off in their customary blue and white towards me and the other occupants of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand. I am pleased to see the ‘Boro not opting to wear some superfluous away kit, but instead adorned with their traditional all red kit with a white band across the chest, like back in the 1970’s. I am reminded of Jack Charlton and the Middlesbrough team that had one of the greatest collection of surnames of any team ever: Platt, Craggs, Boam, Spraggon, Foggon, Brine and Woof. Today the white band bears the name of the shirt sponsor, something called ‘Ramsden Currency’. I thought Ramsden’s was a Fish & Chips franchise but they seem to have diversified into banking, hence the expression ‘cheap as chips’ I guess. Seeing as they’re from the northeast it’s probably something to do with pay day loans.
Portman Road is unusually noisy, due in part to over 1,800 Smog Monsters, as the

inhabitants of Middlesbrough are sometimes unkindly known, although a diet of ‘Parmos’ doesn’t do them a lot of favours. But Ipswich fans in the Sir Bobby Robson stand are in reasonable voice and the drum in the corner is being beaten enthusiastically. It helps that Town start the game like a team on a mission to win, which I guess they are. For the first ten minutes Ipswich dominate and then Freddie Sears scores a searing goal, winning the ball wide on the right before advancing and making the ball disappear before making it reappear as it hits the back of the net.
The goal perhaps changes matters and Middlesbrough begin to keep the ball to themselves to prevent such a thing happening again. It’s not long before the ‘Boro fans are borrowing a Pet Shop Boys tune to complain to the Ipswich fans that despite their team winning they are still not singing. It’s a fair cop. Then Town’s Cole Skuse collapses Britt Assambalonga in full flight and is booked by referee Mr Coote, who sadly has a full head of hair. There is a lot of hair on display today with the ‘Boro’s Ryan Shotton sporting tied-back tinted dreadlocks which resemble a trussed up Tarantula. Adam Clayton’s tiny top notch, a sort of My Little Ponytail looks pathetic in comparison, but clearly the barbers of Teesside are doing alright off the back or head of the football club. This is why a successful football teams is said to be so good for the local economy.
In the Sir Bobby Robson stand Town fans turn “Oh when the saints going marching in ” into a dreadful dirge as if predicting Southampton’s relegation. The song subsides and with a half an hour gone the Boro fans are asking if this is a library and where the nineteenth century American literature might be found. They go on to advise that Town fans “Only sing when you’re farming” before asking the whereabouts of our combine harvesters, immediately giving away their ignorance of the farming year and the fact that no one much has their own combine harvester anymore. It’s five past one and time for a drinks break. The old couple behind me moan and groan as if this is some terrible affront to them. It wasn’t like this in their day, dehydration was a fact of life and you had to get on with it, like you did with diphtheria and fatal industrial accidents.
Thirty nine minutes pass before the Boro fans decide they cannot take it any longer and get out their Welsh hymnals and sing that “Your support is, your support is, your support is fucking shit”. I enjoy the sense of anticipation created by the repetition of the first line. Half –time arrives and Ipswich are still winning 1-0 although defending has had to become their playing style of choice. I speak with Ray and his wife Ros who is making her annual visit or pilgrimage to Portman Road. I check on the buddleia on the roof of the stand; it’s still there and doing well but it’s too high up to see any butterflies. It is forty years ago today that Ipswich Town won the FA Cup and as a half-time treat five

blokes in their sixties, who it turns out are members of that winning team are paraded onto the pitch with an FA Cup (there’s more than one apparently). They remain by the dugouts and a bloke with a mike asks some dull questions, before they are lead away. It would have been better if they could have been driven around the pitch in some sort of football version of a “pope-mobile” to take the applause from each stand in turn.
The second half sees Ipswich defend more and more, and more desperately, with shot after shot being blocked. Middlesbrough are much the better team in terms of being able to pass to each other and take shots on goal. Too often Ipswich hit the ball with more hope than subtlety or careful weighting so that it finds another Ipswich player. There is a skills gap, but as time rolls on it looks like it might be Town’s lucky day; but then it turns out not to be as following a corner Stewart Downing takes a shot from the edge of the penalty area and miraculously it doesn’t hit anyone or anything between Downing’s boot and the goal net.
Seventy-five minutes have passed and it’s time for another drinks break. “Ohhhh, what the heck is goin’ on?” says an angry old voice “What a load of ….” but he trails off unable to think of a word for what it is a load of. Despite having already been introduced to the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAconcept of the drinks break in the first half, the old folks’ understanding and acceptance has not improved. They must be quite mean spirited to want to deny a drink to people who have been running several miles on a hot sunny day. Health professionals tells us that old people do not drink enough and it would seem they don’t want other people to drink either.
Perhaps reinvigorated by the drinks break, Ipswich begin to attack again with seven minutes of the match remaining earn a penalty, which Martyn Waghorn makes into a goal and Ipswich are once again winning. There are no complaints about the lack of support now as Ipswich fans nervously urge their team to hold out against the Boro’ who set up tents around the edge of the Ipswich penalty area. The Ipswich cross bar is smote and Daniel Ayala, a former Norwich player heads the re-bounding ball into the net, but is delightfully deemed offside. Ayala does not accept the decision gracefully, which only adds to the fun.
The game enters uncharted amounts of time added on, probably because of those pesky drinks breaks, and thirteen minutes after Waghorn’s penalty a Middlesbrough corner is headed ‘home’ by Patrick Bamford, an oddly upper class looking player who could be up for the weekend from Eton or Harrow.
Isn’t it a pity, isn’t it a shame? Yes, but the final whistle now blows and the news is that Norwich have been thrashed 5-1 by Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich have therefore finished above Norwich in the final league table and so all’s well that ends well etcetera. It has been an exciting match which Middlesbrough should have won but Ipswich could have won and that seems enough at the moment to make some Town fans optimistic, but it’s probably just the sunshine.

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Coggeshall Town 3 Stowmarket Town 2

The final Saturday of the football league season has arrived, a special day in the football calendar because it can mean such a lot, or so little. It can be make or break, or it can be pointless, futile, a complete waste of everyone’s time. Too lazy to search for the least important fixture of the day I opt to go to the nearest, which just happens to be the one at which Coggeshall Town will be presented with the Thurlow Nunn Eastern CountiesThurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League trophy Premier league trophy, which is in fact a substantial looking cup. But first it will be necessary to endure another ninety minutes of football.
It’s a warm sunny day in early May, blackbirds and sparrows are nesting in my garden and a nesting box for swifts, swallows or house martins has just this morning been put up under the eaves of my house. It’s the May Day Bank Holiday, which people who vote Conservative shouldn’t be allowed to take; hypocrites. Because the weather is warm and fine Mrs Brooks, who has chronic asthma, is able to accompany me today. Anticipating plenty of people wanting to see Coggeshall presented with the league trophy we set off before two o’clock. It’s a slow journey behind a farm tractor but it still only takes about ten minutes.
The sun beats down on the dry and dusty car park at West Street; the Stowmarket team Stowmarket Town FC busbus is here, provided by Squirrel’s Coaches on which I like to think an-on board hostess offers passengers nut-based snacks. At the turnstile I hand over a twenty pound note, a pound coin and fifty pence piece. In return I receive £10, a programme and a colour picture of the team that won the league on Tuesday night. Admission is £6 for me and £4 for Mrs Brooks who is over 60. Inside the ground the Coggeshall team appear to be having fun warming up on the pitch.Coggeshall Town FC Radio Essex is here in Radio Essex reporterfemale form. Near the main stand we see Jim and Keith; Keith is wearing a T-shirt and shorts, Jim has a coat and a hat. We follow them into the stand to exchange pleasantries; Mrs Brooks hasn’t seen Keith for quite some time, or Jim come to that. Keith is over seventy but points out Olly Murs warming up with the team.
Acquaintances renewed, we head for the bar where Mrs Brooks has a white wine spritzer with soda (£4.00) and I have a pint of Caledonian Brewery Coast to Coast (£3.90), a cold, fizzy beer which I drink very slowly indeed to mitigate its unfortunate repetitive qualities. We step outside to enjoy the Spring sunshine and convivial atmosphere. There are plenty of people on the deck drinking like us and chatting. There is a barbecue set up BBQaround the corner of the dressing rooms beneath a white gazebo. People are stretched out on the grassy bank to the side of the seated stand. This is lovely, a football match crossed with a village fete. “The toilets are fairly good in there” says a Suffolk accent. “ They’re bigger than when I last come” says another in reply.
What looks like a mixture of players from Coggeshall’s Under 9’s and Under 10’s teams lines up at the foot of the steps from the

changing rooms to the pitch. Coggeshall’s giant poultry mascot Rocky the Rooster joins them having been led down the steps by his beak. The Stowmarket Town team joins them too. We wait, and wait a bit more. A sort of Haka can be heard from home team dressing room before the Coggeshall team appears and waits on the steps, why they wait is unclear. Eventually however the players step down towards the pitch to be applauded by their ‘guard of honour’. Handshakes ensue and then we’re ready for the game to begin.


Coggeshall kick off aiming towards the club house and in their customary red and black striped shirts with black shorts, very good they look too. Stowmarket Town, kicking towards the West Street vineyard and the town of Coggeshall itself, sadly haven’t put as much thought into their kit today; they wear their home shirts of amber and black stripes, but because their usual black shorts would be black like Coggeshall’s they have ‘borrowed’ the red shorts from their away kit. The result is an unholy mess, all they needed was white or amber shorts and they would have looked fine, but instead they look like they got changed in the dark.a bit of a mish mash
Mrs Brooks and I sit on the grass slope between the club house and the main stand. The first notable action is when the ball is booted out and hurtles like a space capsule re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere onto the grassy bank making a man in a red and blue checked shirt spill his beer. At the far end of the ground six blokes from Stowmarket sing and bang the perimeter fence like the drunks that they probably are. In front of us a golden retriever or labrador, (who really knows the difference?) looks on and barks excitedly when the ball is hoofed out of defence or when the action gets a bit feisty.


It’s twenty past three and Stowmarket’s number seven is booked for a foul; referee Mr Harrison, a very clean cut, angular looking man raises his yellow card slowly, pointedlyOfficials and dismissively as if to humiliate and punish at the same time. The first corner of the game follows soon after, falling to Coggeshall, but Stowmarket defend it easily and within a minute take the lead as a low cross from the right is turned into the net by the lunging boot of number nine Ace Howell who has evidently wandered un-noticed into the Coggeshall six yard box. Nearby a woman applies sun screen to her arms and the smell of male body spray is wafted by on the breeze, as it does on warm days.
Seven more minutes pass and a deep Coggeshall cross from the right is knocked back into the path of number eight Conor Hubble who steps effortlessly past one defender, sidesteps another and then wellies the ball into the corner of the Stowmarket goal as if to say “ You didn’t really think we wouldn’t equalise did you?”. The Labrador gets excited. Emboldened by the goal, a few Coggeshall supporters shout randomly. “Ridiculous, ref!” is heard as a free-kick goes the ‘wrong way’ and then “Be strong” as if every now and then players are prone to inexplicable weakness and they need reminding not to be.
The shouts of encouragement seemingly have no influence on the score however, which remains 1-1 as Mr Harrison blows for half time. In the break we speak with Paul who is videoing the game and has taken time out to get something to eat at the barbecue. We then meet our next door neighbour, also called Paul who has arrived ‘hot-foot’ from Harry Potter World. Paul is here with his son Sam, who we don’t see at first, but apparently he cuffs the back of his dad’s head as he walk past. Kids of today, eh?
The second half soon unfolds before us and we stand at the other side of the main stand to get a better view of the Coggeshall goals when they arrive, because going to football is all about being optimistic. Stowmarket are now playing into the sun but stood in the metal bus shelter-like stand at the clubhouse end of the ground their fans are even more vociferous than before, although it could all be down to acoustics. The sun is reflecting man with a bike at Coggeshall Townoff the corrugated tin roof of the main stand and a bearded man with long grey hair, tied in a ponytail stands by his bicycle and looks on, which you couldn’t do at a poncey Premier League game, or even at Colchester United, and definitely not for six quid.
“Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you” sing the Stowmarket fans, confusingly already singing a song. No one responds, understandably. The Stowmarket fans sing the same song, but alter the words. “Who the fuck, who the fuck, who the fuck is Olly Murs?” is now the refrain. No one helps them out, so they make up their own answer, seamlessly switching from the Welsh hymn tune to the Latin American rhythm and beat of Hector Anulo’s ‘Guantanamera’, and singing “Shit Robbie Williams, You’re just a shit Robbie Williams”.
The second half is as competitive as the first on the pitch, but to some extent the teams are both good enough to be cancelling one another out. May be the stalemate is what is causing the Stowmarket fans behind the goal to make their own entertainment by constantly stretching their musical and lyrical imaginations, if not their talent. They get that end of season ‘here to celebrate’ feel as they call to the team manager and others in the dugout to “give us a wave”, which they obligingly do. It’s about twenty five past four and Stowmarket earn two corners either side of a fine diving save from the Coggeshall goalkeeper James Bransgrove. “Small club in Marks Tey, You’re just a small club in Mark’s Tey” sing the Stow’ Town choir once again employing Hector Anulo’s most famous tune.
Coggeshall are having more possession of the ball and are getting forward more frequently. Nnamdi Nwachuku taunts the Stowmarket full-back Ollie Brown with his pace and tricky footwork. A man in a Tottenham Hotspur shirt also taunts the full-back, repeatedly telling him he is has no pace; happily the full-back plays on with a smile. It’s nearly half past four, Coggeshall have a corner and Nnamdi Nwachuku jumps athletically, firmly heading the ball into the goal net. It might be the last game of the season but it means a lot and the players mob Nnamdi joyfully. “Twenty big minutes” shouts someone nearby in a spirit of encouragement; I wonder if to Stowmarket the minutes will be the same size as usual or smaller.
It is half past four and Stowmarket equalise, their number nine, the almost fictionally named Ace Howell slipping the ball past the Coggeshall goalkeeper, applying a very fine end to a passing move. The goal means a lot to Stowmarket, who have won their previous ten consecutive matches and presumably would like to add an eleventh. Now everyone’s minutes are the same size again. Coggeshall return to the Stowmarket end of the ground and Nnamdi Nwachuku is sandwiched between two Stow’ defenders. “Every time” bawls someone to my right as if the visiting defenders follow Nwachuku around in pairs, one either side of him.
It’s twenty to five now and Coggeshall have another free-kick, somewhere near the half way line. The ball is punted beyond the Stowmarket defence; only Coggeshall substitute Tom Monk reacts; he runs on, brings they ball under control and smashes it past Stow’ goalkeeper who has at least moved, unlike his team mates. With every goal the celebrations increase in excitement; it’s now officially a ‘five goal thriller’ as the lead has swung back and forth. The remaining ten minutes are probably going to be big again, although no one mentions it. Coggeshall almost get a fourth goal as their number four George Cocklin spectacularly hits the cross bar with a beautiful 30 yard shot which drops over the goalkeeper’s head, rattles the cross bar and bounces down on the goal line in the way shots have ever since the 1966 World Cup final, but without being goals.
The game is dragging on, Mr Harrison the referee doesn’t seem keen to stop, but of course eventually he blows for the final time this season. Then we wait and wait and

wait for the presentation of the league championship trophy. Tables and billboards are put in place. A stack of what look like small shoe boxes sit by the trophy. Bottles of Prosecco are stood on the tables. The players of both teams loaf about on the turf, the Stowmarket players look increasingly bored. Finally, a short announcement precedes each player each receiving a shoe box as his name is announced to generous applause and then the Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson lifts the trophy in a brief orgasm of streamers and pyrotechnics. Joy and happiness abounds, but for us the afternoon is finished and we go home for a barbecue of our own, leaving others to stay and celebrate.

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Felixstowe & Walton United 2 Coggeshall Town 4

It’s rare that I finish work and take a trip to the seaside but this evening, having ‘logged out’ and put away the tools of my trade for another day, I find myself heading for the 16:58 from Ipswich stopping at all stations to Felixstowe, which means Westerfield, Derby Road and Trimley St Mary. It’s a bright, breezy evening as the single carriage box on rails roars into life and departs the platform ten seconds early. The frantic diesel engine growls and then subsides as if the driver is searching through a crash gearbox and struggling to double de-clutch. We pass over the bridges of Bramford Road and Norwich Road and I look along those streets to down town Ipswich with its chunky, if not gleaming towers and the Portman Road football ground, which looks massive beyond the low, humble rooftops of Ipswich’s residential streets. On a bright Spring evening Ipswich shows off its trees; it’s a fine town.
The train is fairly full of people heading home from work. Opposite me a simian looking man in a grey anorak; behind him a tall man with a crew cut wearing a red Adidas tracksuit top; he looks like a Russian cosmonaut. On the other side of the train to him is a luxuriantly bearded man with long hair hanging over bristly temples, he is wearing an infantile coat decorated with a gaudy cartoon character; the woman with him could surely do better than that. “Hello Mum, how are you doin?” says another man answering his mobile phone. The cheery conductor asks to see my ticket (£3.05 for a single with a Goldcard) and scribbles on it in biro. He hasn’t singld me out, he looks at other people’s tickets too. I only bought a single because it is impossible to get back from Felixstowe to most intermediate stations between Colchester and London after 9.25pm. I shall be cadging a lift home with two Coggeshall regulars Keith and Jim.
The journey takes about 25 minutes and is well worth the £3.05 fare, with its tour of the cuttings, embankments, bridges and viaduct of Ipswich and then the open countryside towards Trimley with its glimpses of the tops of dockside cranes. The track runs parallel to the road for some way and as we hurtle along and overtake a bus I am reminded of the Titfield Thunderbolt; Greater Anglia should have a bar on this commuter run.


Felixstowe station has a beautiful canopy and concourse which are Grade II listed, it’s just a shame a the platform is now divided in two by a surface car park. The fate of the railway station is that of Felixstowe in microcosm, one of faded, compromised Edwardian grace and occasional grandeur. Felixstowe could be posh like Southwold and Frinton and in places it is, but it has an unfortunate underbelly like most of divided Britain; on Hamilton Road a man sits on a bench wrapped in a sleeping bag. I do a spot of sightseeing, walking down to the cliff top get a glimpse of the sea and then back along Grosvenor Road, stopping off for a pint of Sharp’s Doom Bar (£3.35) in the Grosvenor Arms, a typical Greene King pub, weirdly decorated like a cross between an hotel lounge and a small town museum.

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It’s just gone six o’clock and I amble back towards the railway station and cross over the road into Beatrice Avenue, a clichéd, leafy, suburban street of detached houses with Tudorbethan gables. I half expect to see a Reggie Perrin. The ‘Goldstar Ground’ and Dellwood Avenue, home of Felixstowe & Walton United, runs off Beatrice Avenue and is much the same, but it’s got bungalows too. There are two stewards in day-glo waistcoats at the entrance to the club car park, clearly tonight’s game is a big one. I crunch my way across the beach-like car park, past the old club house which stands forgotten, forlorn and falling apart; there are tiles missing from its roof and the paint is peeling from its weather boarded walls. It could look good if restored as a cricket pavilion, but as it is it looks like it might soon be offering up spare parts for allotment sheds.

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The turnstiles have only been open a few minutes and there is no queue, only an array of signs, one of which refers to ‘Spectator Balls’ and would seem to be purely for comedic effect. I pay my £6 entry fee and collect a programme (£1.50) from a man sat at a foldaway table. I head towards the swish new club house, a low brick building with black timber cladding, which only opened at the start of the season; it sits behind a tarmac area in the shade of a row of small trees like a French town square. I make for the snack bar and order a chip buttie (£2 – ticket no 57) and very good it is too, with lots of crinkle cut chips served in a little cardboard box. I sit and eat at a Yogi bear-style picnic table and gain amusement from the pre-match music play list; Dancing Queen (Abba) ; Since You’ve Been Gone (Rainbow) Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen); The Boys Are Back In Town (Thin Lizzie) and so on. It’s no surprise when the stadium announcer sounds like Mike Smash, drawing out the final syllables of every sentence. Someone needs to tell him it’s no longer 1980.
Finding Keith, my driver for the night, already ensconced in the stand with his sidekick Jim, I offer to get them a drink; two coffees (£1 each) and I pop into the bar, a plain but 27966581938_1353fc665e_odurable looking room, for a pint of Guinness (£3.50), but am very, very disappointed that there is no real ale, not even Greene King IPA. I return to Keith and Jim and settle down in a seat for the evening as the crowds begin to roll in, gathering mostly in the area in front of the bar, but fanning out all around the perimeter fence too. Both Felixstowe and Coggeshall have already secured promotion to Bostik Division One North, but if Coggeshall win tonight they will be Champions; if Felixstowe win they will go top of the league and could clinch the Championship on Saturday. The excitement is palpable and clearly worth six quid of several people’s money. The eventual crowd will eventually be announced as 1,541, easily the biggest attendance in the Eastern Counties League this season and possibly since the 1960’s and nearly 700 more than watched Morecambe play Colchester United earlier this season in the fourth division.
Kick-off is delayed for five minutes because there are still queues at the turnstiles but referee Mr Aaron Farmer seems keen to get on as the teams appear on time to go through all that handshaking malarkey. The teams are announced over the PA in the style of a bingo caller. “On his o-w-n, Numb-e-r One, Dann–y Cruuuuump”, except he didn’r say “On his o-w-n”, sadly.. Felixstowe & Walton United being “The Seasiders”, it is entirely possible that their stadium announcer’s day-job is on the pier. The teams line up and we wait about as the swirly, impatient sounds of Fat Boy Slims “Right Here, Right Now” build the sense of occasion; I always think that that tune should be played at bus stops and on station platforms in the minutes leading up to arrival and departure.
Eventually, Coggeshall Town kick off in the direction of Woodbridge wearing a change kit of all blue with white sleeves, which makes them look rather fetchingly like the mighty Ipswich Town, a good omen for them surely. Felixstowe & Walton United meanwhile model their customary Signal toothpaste inspired design of red and white striped shirts with red shorts and socks; they are kicking towards the town and the North Sea. Fat Boy Slim breaks off abruptly, but not before the game has started.

Coggeshall start well and quickly have a shot on goal, the Felixstowe goalkeeper Danny Crump making a diving save from Coggeshall’s number ten Ross Wall and the Seedgrowers win an early corner. Coggeshall get forward well, particularly down the left wing with Aaron Cosgrove, but gradually Felixstowe edge back, although their play is more about just getting the ball into the box. There are a few chants of “Sea-Sea-Seasiders” mostly from the area in front of the bar, but not as many as you might expect from a crowd of this size. Behind the goal at the ’Woodbridge end’ a loan voice occasionally bellows support for Felixstowe.
Coggeshall are looking the better team, but it still surprises me when Jamie Shaw heads Coggeshall into the lead from a Curtis Haynes Brown cross; the ball is seemingly cleared off the goal line but the linesman signals that the ball had crossed the line. This LAR (Linesman Assisted Referee) system really works. Then Coggeshall score again, Aaron Cosgrove displaying the sort of skill that on the night is setting Coggeshall apart from their rivals. Barely twenty minutes have been played, the night is young, it isn’t even dark yet.
The goals dampen the crowd’s ardour, but the game is played at a furious pace so there is still excitement aplenty as muscular tackles and thundering hoofs are punctuated by occasional flashes of pace and skill and a booking for each team. Felixstowe spectacularly hit the Coggeshall bar with a shot from Boardley and then a cross into the box from a free-kick is swept in from close range by Felixstowe captain Rhys Barber. It’s 2-1 to Coggeshall as everyone breaks ranks for half-time and many of us discover that the two urinals and one toilet in the clubhouse aren’t enough tonight. I take a walk around the ground to take in the sights as daylight rapidly fades and is swapped for floodlight and the unique atmosphere of the night match. Such a big crowd stood on the grass beneath the trees, it feels more like Bonfire Night.
Returning to my seat just in time for the re-start, the ground is now transformed by the floodlights. The grass seems to glow beneath the dark blue sky and backdrop of lofty trees. The score line is finely poised. It’s five to nine and once again Coggeshall’s Aaron Cosgrove runs at speed at the Felixstowe defence, this time at its very heart. Cosgrove is tripped by Dan Davis who is booked for his efforts and Conor Hubble arcs a glorious free-kick over the defensive wall in to the top left hand corner of the Felixstowe goal. Not long later Cosgrove is tripped again, this time in the penalty area, and Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson makes the score 4-1 from the spot.
Felixstowe substitute Jamal Wiggins still manages to get a second goal for Felixstowe from close range and then the game changes into a lower gear. Half chances come and go but Coggeshall are largely in control. In the stand some of the spectators betray their loss of hope, appealing desperately and randomly to players, the referee and anyone in earshot. “Keep the ball!”, “Put it up there!” “What’s he doing now? Booking the ball?” More players of both teams are booked and the referee becomes equally unpopular with both sets of supporters, as is only right. One voice has given up on goals and just wants Coggeshall players booked for swearing; has he never been to a football match before I wonder. The best of the game has passed, but it remains exciting nevertheless and Keith and I speculate about the damaged greenhouses and cold frames in the gardens of the detached houses beyond the far touch line, as numerous balls are booted out of the ground.
The crowd thins out as it becomes evident that Felixstowe will not win, and they don’t. Coggeshall Town are champions of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League and the game ends in a burst of deserved and prolonged applause for both teams.
It’s novel to see a team win something, it’s not something that as an Ipswich Town supporter I have witnessed lately and I have had to experience the joy of winning trophies vicariously through other clubs. Tonight has been memorable.

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