Hadleigh United 1 Gorleston 4

 

It’s not been possible to travel by passenger train to Hadleigh since 1932, but today the number 91 bus will get you there from Ipswich, although it only does so every 90 minutes. The 15 kilometre bus journey takes about half an hour.  To catch the number 91 bus I would first have to board the train to Ipswich and in half the time it would take me to do that and then catch the bus I could have driven to Hadleigh, parked my Citroen C3, had a cup of tea, bought and read the programme and probably done a few other things too.

Today therefore, despite the carbon emissions, I shall drive to see Hadleigh United play Gorleston in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division.  Consequently I am thankful to Andre-Gustave Citroen, founder of the Citroen car company and am pleased that I metaphorically doffed my cap to what is left of his mortal remains in Montparnasse cemetery when in Paris last month.

Having left the A12, it’s a pleasant drive on a bright autumn afternoon through Holton St Mary and Raydon along the twisting and rolling B1070 into Hadleigh.    Wikipedia tells us that Hadleigh has over 200 listed buildings and arriving in the town into Benton Street there are a good number of them as the jettied timbers, steep gables and leaded windows evidence.  On into High Street and left into Duke Street, across the remarkable fourteenth century, three arched Toppesfield Bridge  (Grade II* listed) and then left  into Tinkers Lane, Hadleigh United’s ground ‘The Millfield’ is at the end.

Although it’s only just gone two-thirty, the car park is already full and I am ushered ‘off-road’ through a gate and across the turf behind one of the goals to join a row of cars lined up at the edge of the practice pitch.  Leaving my trusty Citroen, I walk back behind the goal and ask the man who directed me through the gate if I need to go back out and

come back in through the turnstile.  Apparently I don’t; today is Hadleigh United ‘Community Mascot Day’ and it’s ‘pay what you want’.    There is no turnstile at Hadleigh, which is a shame, but I find a man guarding the collecting bucket.  I fish a fiver from my wallet and a pound coin from my pocket and give it to him because six quid is about the going rate for Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League Football I reckon.  I don’t want to do them down, but equally I’m not about to make a charitable donation.  I ask how much a programme is and the man with the bucket says I have already paid, but I give him a quid anyway because that’s what it would normally cost.  I don’t really understand the rationale behind a ‘pay what you want’ day, do the club hope everyone will just hand over a tenner?  Nevertheless, I live for the day that Ipswich Town have one, although I suspect I will have to live a bloody long time.

There’s still some time to go before kick-off so I pop into the clubhouse and bar to admire the old black and white pictures of bygone teams , I am impressed by a photo of Hadleigh Juniors, which the caption says were winners of the Chelsworth ‘Boys’ Cup, despite that fact that all the players look about forty-five.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  I consider buying a drink, but it doesn’t look like there is any real ale on offer so I go outside and make do with a pounds worth of tea instead.  The area outside the club house is busy with people buying and scoffing chips, burgers and hot dogs and watching hordes of 3 to 9 year olds enjoying what is called Diddy’s and Mini’s football. Mums and Dads look on.

As I walk around to the main (only) stand the pitch is cleared of small children, presumably by some sort of Pied Piper figure.  With the sun already quite low in the sky, and shining on the browns and yellows of the autumn trees there is a beautiful golden glow to the afternoon , but a blustery wind is blowing from the north east and out of the sun it is cold.   The Millfield is at the edge of the town backing onto the slow moving, weed covered River Brett, the existence of which is hinted at by the presence of a bright orange life buoy propped against the fence.  From a distance I can see letters printed on the life belt and I speculate hopefully that they might read MV Marie Celeste or SS Titanic, but sadly they only read BDC, Babergh District Council.  At the other end of the ground open, rolling fields skirted with trees rise gently up away from the river in the direction of Layham.  As I arrive at the main stand Fat Boy Slim’s “Right Here Right Now” can be heard from the set of Aiwa speakers beneath the roof of the terrace opposite; it’s a sound that seems slightly incongruous in this rustic setting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I lounge on the second of three steps of cold, grey, wooden benches that run the length of the main stand.  The teams emerge from the tin clad building that houses the club house and dressing rooms but looks like a light industrial unit where a bloke in overalls will MOT your car; the players line up on the far side for the  ritual handshaking before dispersing for kick off.  Behind me one Gorleston supporter asks another how good his burger was; six out of ten is the verdict.  “Come On Greens!”, “Come on Gorleston!” shout the Gorleston supporters as the teams prepare for kick-off.  “How do you think we’ll do today?” asks one, expectantly.  “Who knows” replies the other, cautiously.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is Hadleigh United, known as the Brettsiders because of their location next to the river, who get first go with the ball, kicking in the direction of said river. Hadleigh wear an all navy blue kit, which would be fine if it didn’t also have white shoulders, giving the players the appearance of wearing small ermine capes, like some sort of House of Lords eleven.  Gorleston’s kit by contrast is all green and completely plain, although sadly it’s a rather nasty ‘plastic’ shade of green.  My advice to Gorleston when choosing a green kit would be to look at what the French clubs AS Saint-Etienne and Red Star FC are currently wearing in Ligue 1 Conforama and Domino’s Ligue2.

As referee Mr Quick wastes no time in blowing his whistle to begin the match, the bells OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof the mostly fifteenth century parish church of St Mary the Virgin (Grade 1 listed) ring out across the town to tell everyone that it is three o’clock.  Hadleigh might have had the first kick of the ball but it’s Gorleston who are having most kicks thereafter.  Gorleston’s eleven Dan Camish is having  a lot of fun scampering down the left wing and their number seven Connor Ingram has the first chance to score but heads over the cross bar.   Gorleston seem to have a plan to get the ball behind the full-back and then into the middle. Hadleigh however, seem un-certain what to do.  This perhaps explains why Gorleston have won their last three matches and are tenth in the league table, whilst Hadleigh languish, seventeenth in the twenty team division.  Hadleigh’s number ten Daniel Thrower stands out as their best player however, although their number two Charlie Howlett has made most effort with his hair;  his head has the look of an inverted Oreo with pale skin beneath a short back and sides and a bleached top sandwiching a band of natural brown colour.  The splendidly named Romario Dunne runs Howlett a not too close second with his hair tied back into  a small bun; a style which nevertheless suits his name and makes him look a bit like Stade Malherbe Caen’s Enzo Crivelli, or, less flatteringly perhaps, like one of the women in Grant Wood’s painting Daughters of Revolution.

It’s a reasonably entertaining game, even if neither team is having many shots on goal,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA but the fact that it’s a sunny afternoon probably helps and peels of bells from St Mary The Virgin delight the ears too, drifting in and out on the gusty breeze; the spire of the church is visible over the roof tops beyond the car park.   Suddenly there is a loud bang on the back of the stand as a stray ball from an impromptu Diddies and Minis kickabout strikes corrugated tin. It wakes the spectators in the stand from their reverie but not the Hadleigh team who just before half past three fall behind to a goal from Dan Camish who dashes past Howlett’s haircut into the penalty area and flicks the ball past the orange-clad figure of Nick Punter the Hadleigh goalkeeper.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The main stand is in the shade and feels damp and cold so I decide to alter my perspective on the game by moving behind the Hadleigh goal to bask in the autumn sun.  Five minutes later Gorleston score again; another break down the left by Camish and number nine, Ross Gilfedder slides in to prod the ball over the line a split second before Camish’s shot would have crossed the ball of its own free will.  As he picks himself up off the turf Gilfedder appears to glance guiltily towards Camish, hoping perhaps that he doesn’t realise he nicked ‘his goal’.  Perplexed Hadleigh players look at one another with arms outstretched and palms open, but seem to accept they are all at fault.

I move on again, this time to the side of the pitch so I haven’t got so far to go for my half-time tea.  I stand next to two men just in time to over hear the end of a funny story about a funeral.   From what I could make out the story teller went to the funeral of someone who he had been told had died, but it turned out that the funeral was for someone else with the same name and his acquaintance wasn’t dead at all.  The punch line was something like “Well if he dies again I int going to his funeral ‘cos the cunt never turned up to his first one”.  Amusing story over, the conversation switches to football and how the standard of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League First Division probably isn’t any better than the Touchline Suffolk and Ipswich League Senior Division.  Meanwhile, Gorleston win a free-kick near the half way line which is taken by their number six Peter Lambert, who is a giant of a man.  Lambert boots the ball far over the goal and straight out for a goal kick. “Everything that bloke kicks goes out” says the man the other side of me from the man who went to the funeral. I tell him that I think the problem is he has been built to the wrong scale.

Half-time is almost here and my thoughts have turned to a polystyrene cup of hot tea, but I am going to have to wait. Gorleston’s Mitch Mckay runs onto a through ball and into the penalty area, as he controls the ball Nick Punter, which is an apt name for a goalkeeper, dives at his feet and McKay falls to the ground.  Mr Quick, doesn’t hesitate to award a penalty from which Connor Ingram creates the half-time score of 3-0, although not before Hadleigh captain Kris Rose rather angrily and threateningly berates the linesman Mr Pope.

Half-time sees the hordes of Diddies and Minis return to the pitch to take penalties OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAagainst a large dog in a blue checked hat and coat and a lion that is wearing a T-shirt and possibly a thong.  I give the lion the benefit of the doubt and don’t phone Social Services, preferring to warm my hands around a pounds worth of tea whilst I read the programme.

The first action of the second-half sees Hadleigh’s captain Kris Rose very unnecessarily and somewhat viciously scythe down Gorleston’s number ten Jordan Stanton, who is by no means the toughest looking member of the Gorleston team.  Rose struts and swaggers away from the scene of the crime advertising his lack of remorse. Pleasingly Mr Quick does not delay in making him the first player to be shown the yellow card.  It would seem that Rose has not yet got over his anger from the penalty at the end of the first half.   In the programme Rose’s own team mate Michael Barwick outs Rose as the team ‘hardman’,  but also the vainest player at the club.

The game carries on and the winners of a prize draw are announced. Ticket number 887 wins a meal for two at the Swan Inn at Lavenham.  Another prize involves what sounded like a body wash or scrub, perhaps both. Hadleigh meanwhile, are playing better than they did in the first half and deservedly win a penalty at about a quarter past four from which Dan Thrower scores.  Then a little later George Crowe hits a post with a shot and Thrower hits the bar.  “Come on Hadleigh, you’re all over them” shouts a man from the stand, not unreasonably. Gorleston are looking worried and a certain tension is evident amongst the players despite their two goal lead.  A Gorleston player goes down under a challenge from Charlie Howlett, who is immediately booked by Mr Quick. There is a hiatus as the player receives treatment or counselling and a small boy, probably a Diddy, asks me what happened.  I tell him the Gorleston player looks to have been accidentally smacked in the mouth. “Oh yeah, I’ve done that” says the small boy.  I don’t know if he means he’s smacked someone else in the mouth or if he’s been smacked, but I don’t get the opportunity to ask as he’s already run off.

Despite being a bright afternoon, there has always been a lot of cloud and now a few spots of rain have appeared on my coat; my fingers are growing increasingly numb and the shadows of the trees at the Layham end of the ground have reached the far end of the pitch.  It’s ten to five and Gorleston substitute Ryan Fuller plays in fellow substitute Joel Watts who takes the ball around the on rushing Punter before kicking the ball firmly into the net.

The goal confirms the result beyond all doubt and pushes Hadleigh into the relegation places in the league table. With the final whistle I head back to my Citroen across the practice pitch, dodging the few remaining Diddies and Minis who are knocking footballs about behind the main stand.  It’s been a decent afternoon’s entertainment even if Toppesfield Bridge and the bells of St Mary the Virgin will always possibly be the stars.

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Ipswich Town 0 Queens Park Rangers 2

I haven’t seen Ipswich Town play since the 1-1 draw with Norwich City in early September. Three weeks house-sitting in Paris and watching the other-worldly football of Paris Saint Germain (see previous posts) and I am pining for the prosaic drudgery of Championship football with its ceaseless reliance on running about and winning free-kicks to play set–pieces because no one has the vision or skill to have confidence enough to score goals through open play. It’s probably why managers, including our own Paul Hurst sadly, play ‘one-up front’. Why waste a player trying to score in open play when you can have extra insurance against unexpectedly conceding a goal. Well, that’s what it looks like to me.
But Ipswich Town have been my team since 1971 and I have missed them these last few

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weeks. With gladness in my heart therefore, I set off for the train to Ipswich. My joy is doubled today because I am sharing the experience with my wife Paulene, courtesy of the generosity of Ipswich Town who have allowed me as a season ticket holder to buy four additional tickets for just ten pounds each, although if truth be told that’s only a fair price, not a cheap one.
We board the train through the first set of sliding doors and after Colchester share the carriage with just one other fellow traveller. It’s a pleasant journey as the lowering autumn sun streaks through the trees on the embankments to lay dappled, diffused sunlight on the carriage window.

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Unusually it’s a twelve carriage train and our arrival in Ipswich feels like we are halfway to Needham with a lengthy walk down Platform 3. There are police on the platform, two dodgy looking blokes with stubble and tattoos, not very Dixon of Dock Green at all, even though we think they are with the Met’ because today Town are playing a London team, Queen’s Park Rangers.

Outside the station the Queens Park Rangers supporters are enjoying the beer garden of the Station Hotel, which no doubt equally enjoys their custom. Behind the pub the River Orwell is glassy and still, a beautiful mirror to reflect the ugly metal sheds and wasteland that squat on its northern bank waiting to be re-devloped. Further on in the car park of what was once Churchman’s factory a lady sells coffee from the back of a van.

Paulene has an espresso (£1.80). Like Paulene the lady visits Portman Road once a year with her husband, just to humour him. In Portman Road, it’s gone half past one, but the turnstiles are not open yet and weirdly keen people are standing, waiting for them to do so. People with buckets collect money for the RNLI whilst others look at the statue of Bobby Robson, which has been adorned with scarves and flowers in response to the recent death of the man generally considered to be Town’s best ever player, Kevin Beattie. The scarves around Sir Bobby’s legs make it look as though if he tried to take a step forward, he might fall over.


We head for St Jude’s Tavern as is my tradition; I have a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50), which today is Black Hole Bitter from the Black Hole Brewery in Burton-On-Trent; Paulene has a glass of Rose (£2.50). I speak with the man at the table next to us about the recent games I have missed and share news of the team with him and the other blokes at his table when it appears on my mobile phone; there is general consternation that there will again be a right-back (Janoi Donacien) at left back and just one player ‘up front’ (Freddie Sears). The mood is not one of joy, but we should be able to do okay against Queens Park Rangers, shouldn’t we? They have fourteen points, we have just nine but we’ve scored more goals and conceded fewer.
I have another pint of Black Hole Bitter before we head back down Portman Road. At the junction with Sir Alf Ramsey Way I buy a copy of Turnstile Blue fanzine from a young boy who takes my money but needs a parent to prompt him to hand over the fanzine in exchange, kids today eh? We pass through the turnstiles and take up our seats to a soundtrack from the PA system of Queen‘s “Don’t stop me now”. Indeed, I am having such a good time. Ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here with his young son Elwood; Paulene is very pleased to see them, I think it’s why she agreed to come today. Pat from Clacton is absent today however. Next to me sits a young man with learning difficulties, he says hello and I introduce myself; we shake hands, his name is Matthew and he thinks Town will win 1-0.

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The teams line up to some mournful music (I think it’s from a film) before hurrying off into huddles and the music gets more upbeat thanks to Neil Diamond and then the game begins; QPR get first go with the ball and are aiming in the direction of Matthew, me, Paulene, Elwood and Phil. Ipswich wear their blue shirts with white sleeves, blue socks and white shorts; it could be a smart kit but sadly the red adidas stripes and trim and hideous ‘Magical Vegas’ logo make the ensemble look a terrible mess. QPR wear vigorously pink shirts and socks with black shorts, very metrosexual. The scene is a Fauvist riot of colour beneath a clear pale blue sky. As the game starts Matthew is quick to encourage, “Come on Ipswich, Come on!” he shouts.


The first foul, within two minutes of the kick-off, is on Town’s Gwion Edwards by QPR’s Jake Bidwell and the first few minutes are messy and inconclusive as the players seem to try and work out what to do with this strange plastic-coated spherical object at their feet. The QPR supporters (we will later be informed that there are 1,338 of them) are in good  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvoice, fuelled by liquids from the Station Hotel no doubt. They sing something about being the pride of somewhere, possibly west London; but either their diction isn’t very good or my hearing is letting me down. But I manage to make sense of “ Come on you R’s!” . “ Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Seven minutes pass and QPR win the game’s first corner; there is a scrum of players on the goal line. This isn’t football, it’s like children jostling one another to be first onto the school bus, but referee Mr Geoff Eltringham doesn’t seem too bothered about it. His laissez-faire attitude seems to say “It’s your own game you’re ruining”. QPR win another corner, which Israeli Tomer Hemed heads over the bar from close to the goal. “Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Ipswich aren’t doing much, but QPR win another corner as Luke Chambers heads the ball back limply and forces Dean Gerken to save a shot from Pawel Wszolek. From the corner the ball arcs into the top far corner of the goal off the flailing glove of Dean

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Gerken and Ipswich are losing. “Come On Ipswich!” shouts Matthew, this time with a hint of frustration. In the Cobbold Stand and North or Sir Bobby Robson Stand spectators shield their eyes from the lowering sun, or it could be from what they are seeing on the pitch.
Shamelessly stealing the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B, the celebrating QPR fans now sing “We’re winning away, We’re winning away, How shit must you be? We’re winning away.” They have a point. Ipswich supporters offer little in return by way of encouragement for their team, although there is some occasional half-hearted banging of a drum in the North Stand and the odd brief chant drifts off up into the afternoon sky.

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Providing an accurate musical commentary for the afternoon, the QPR fans sing “No noise from the Tractor Boys” to the tune of the Village People’s Go West. “Come On Ipswich” shouts Matthew.
Ipswich are displaying a worrying lack of both skill and tactics and it takes until gone three-thirty for Gwion Edwards to provide the first action of any interest as he makes a darting run forward and crosses the ball. This is the start of what in the context of what they have done so far is a good spell for Town. Trevoh Chalobah makes a run down the right and crosses to Grant Ward who is unmarked inside the penalty area. With consummate ease Ward slices the ball wide of the goal as he languidly strikes it ‘first time’. People groan. A couple of minutes later Gwion Edwards draws warm applause from a crowd clearly still harbouring optimism deep down as he has a cross blocked just a fraction of a second after the ball leaves his boot. “Come On Town!” shouts Matthew, still optimistic too.
Half time is near and QPR win what is their sixth or seventh corner of the half and then win another. The ensuing mess in the penalty area sees QPR’s Eberechi Eze stretch for the ball but not control it, but then the straining leg of Aristote N’Siala makes contact with him and although the contact was unintentional and had no bearing on what Eze did or would do next, it’s a penalty. Geoff Eltringham seems to point almost apologetically to the penalty spot. As the penalty is taken Dean Gerken moves to his right and then stops to look back over his shoulder and see where Tomer Hemed has actually kicked the ball.

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It’s 2-0 to QPR and it’s time for a welcome break.

To keep my strength and spirits up for what will no doubt be a testing second half I eat a Panda brand stick of liquorice before visiting the toilet facilities and speaking with Ray, who like Paulene is wearing a parka today, because although it’s bright there is a nip in the air and we are sat in the shade. Paulene is pleased to meet Ray, because she’s heard a lot about him. I look about to see what I can see and notice a tambourine in the window

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of the crowd control box above the players’ tunnel. I can only surmise that it was confiscated from someone trying to support the team; as I know to my cost (see Ipswich Town v Wigan Athletic post) such plans can only end badly, but I brought it on myself I was told. Above me on the stand roof I am amazed to see that the buddleia which I had admired for so long during so many dull moments has gone! I am slightly saddened by what seems like the passing of an old friend. But this is the strongest indication yet that the “New Era” under Paul Hurst is for real.
Town begin the second half and quickly hoof the ball into touch, losing possession. When Town do win the ball back it’s not for long and the old girl behind me vents her frustration “They can’t even kick it to one of their own” she says dismissively. QPR add to their corner count and then claim the afternoon’s first booking after Joel Lynch poleaxes Freddie Sears, who is Elwood’s favourite player. Whilst foul play is a ‘bad thing’, usually a team chasing a game like Ipswich are, would collect a couple of bookings, just through over-enthusiasm. Today however, Town seem not only too sluggish to win a tackle, but too sluggish to even make a late tackle, the unfortunate exception being N’Siala’s in the penalty area. Town are playing so poorly it feels like they’ve achieved something when the QPR goalkeeper is the player with the ball; his name incidentally is Joe Lumley which makes Paulene and me think of Patsy Stone and Purdey and Matthew shouts “Come On Town”

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An hour of the game has gone and a Chalobah cross leaves Edwards with a free header which he directs straight at Lumley, but it’s probably Town’s first effort on target. The shadows are lengthening inexorably and most of the pitch is now in shade, the drop in temperature brings the damp out of the heavily watered pitch and the smell of the turf greets my nostrils arguing the case against 3G pitches. Almost as inevitably as the creeping shade, QPR win more corners and Matthew shouts “Come on Town”.
Town make a couple of unpopular substitutions and it feels like Mick McCarthy never left; Gwion Edwards and Grant Ward, the two ‘wingers’ are replaced by two forwards, Kayden Jackson and Jack Lankester who is in the Under 18s team. The crowd are losing patience. “That black bloke is crap” Matthew tells me. “What Toto?” I ask unnecessarily, because all afternoon Toto has been noticeably poor at passing the ball and giving away penalties, well, a penalty, but one is too many. The new blood helps a little for a minute or two and Town briefly show some more urgency and win some free-kicks in what would be threatening positions if Neymar was in the team. But Town waste them, failing to even get a shot in on goal. Matthew and his carer leave before the final whistle.
Pretty much any Town player you can name will have justifiably had his detractors this afternoon. “Look at the state of him!” says the old girl behind me with conviction. “That flippin’ Chalobah is completely useless”. Nevertheless, a cross he makes, which goes behind the goal, draws applause; odd. Shamefully, there are even a couple of thankfully shy sounding choruses of “What a load of rubbish” from the North Stand. As QPR seemingly achieve a new world record number of corners I shout “McCarthy Out!”, but I don’t think anyone gets the joke.
The final whistle is a relief for everyone, but a good number of people cannot resist booing. The capacity of Ipswich supporters to stay silent through the ninety minutes of a match, never uttering a word of encouragement, only to find the breath to boo at the end never, ever ceases to disappoint. Fortunately, I was sat next to Matthew who showed himself to be a true supporter, even if he did think Toto N’Siala was crap and leaving before the end wasn’t his decision. But, as a man called Tim said to me as we left the stand “That wasn’t good enough”. At first I thought that was something of an understatement, but on reflection it’s all that needs to be said. We haven’t been relegated yet and there is time still to improve, even if there have been few if any signs of recovery today. But in true football-manager fashion I travel home ‘taking away the positives’ from today’s game. These were that I enjoyed two pints of fine beer and good conversation, it was a beautiful autumn day, I met Matthew and I shared the whole experience with my wife….except the beer that is, because she has a grain intolerance.

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Paris St Germain 5 Olympique Lyonnais 0

It’s Sunday evening at Meudon Val Fleury suburban railway station and due to engineering works I didn’t think the RER trains were running, they weren’t when I tried to get home from central Paris last night just after midnight, but life is full of surprises and some of them are nice ones. So my wife Paulene and I eschew the almost door to door service of the 289 bus and opt for fewer carbon emissions with a short train ride and a twenty-minute walk to get to Parc des Princes.
It’s an uneventful journey apart from the sight of a coach, with curtains drawn across the windows and led by two police motorbikes, driving across the Pont d’Issy les Moulineaux. Was it the Olympique Lyon (OL) team, just OL supporters or may be a gendarmes’ night out? Nobody knows; well we don’t.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tonight’s match is the highlight of the weekend in Ligue 1, one of the ‘classique’ games that sees PSG play either OL or Olympique Marseille; the capital against France’s biggest other cities and North versus South. PSG have been dominating French football for the last six or seven years, but OL won Ligue 1 for a record seven consecutive seasons from 2002 to 2008, and with a new stadium hosting crowds in excess of 50,000 they should, in theory, be capable of challenging PSG. So far PSG have won all of their eight league matches this season (a record in itself), but this will be their first game against a club that might be expected to compete with them. OL beat Manchester City in the Champions League a week ago but are already as many as ten points behind PSG in the league.
Kick-off is at nine o’clock and it is almost dark by the time we approach Parc des Princes. There is a roar of traffic along the Périphérique where the red and white lights of the31291864528_a05c5770de_o scooters, cars and trucks make a surreal, atomised tricolour with the deep blue night sky before they disappear beneath a corner of the stadium; in the streets there is a hum of crowds and footfall along the wide boulevards. There are police in abundance; tonight they’ve brought not only their usual vans and bikes but a full size single-deck bus. Then there is a hiatus in the street, armed police are strung45116788112_465d898a34_o across the Route de la Reine and our path to the stadium is blocked. There is no clue why, and then just as mysteriously we are free to go on our way again. The grocery shops are busy as people buy pre-match snacks and a couple of bars are busy, but not to the extent that a pub as close to an English ground would be. Our route to the ground is now carefully directed between metal barriers feeding us toward the correct stand; we are in Borelli, entrance N. Tonight a ticket is notOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA enough to get you in the ground, the French show their ID cards whilst we show our passports.
The nine o’clock kick-off has given ample time to eat dinner with a drink or two so there is no need to buy pre-match refreshment this evening. But the French like to linger over dinner and the seats around us do not fill up until just before kick-off, some after that. This is a big match. The Ultras are back in force in the Auteuil Tribune after being absent for the Red Star Belgrade game, but there is a good following from Lyon also, all waving blue and red flags, chanting and holding their arms aloft as if undergoing a religious expereince. As The PSG team runs out to carry out its on-pitch warm up, the tannoy announces “L’equipe de Paris” (The Paris team) and some raucous grunge is played as pictures of the players striking poses appear on the two giant screens. As Gianluigi Buffon stops shots in a practice goal near the side of the pitch a stray ball flies into the crowd just in front of me. The ball firmly smites a man on the side of his head, but he feigns insouciance and enquires after the well-being of the person next to him as if the ball hit them rather than him. Odd behaviour I think, perhaps he’s concussed.
With the approach of kick off the Ligue 1 anthem, a brassy, punchy little number greets

our ears, the teams and officials walk-on side by side and a brief display of fireworks explodes into life. It’s all very dramatic and slightly pompous. The pomp is put into mundane context soon afterwards as the banners displaying the club crests and Ligue 1 logo are dismantled without ceremony on the space behind the goal and folded up, they no longer look so grand, but more like a colourful two-man tent.
The game begins and early play is tight with both teams’ forwards being crowded out, but Lyon soon suffer a severe blow as Nabil Fekir, their captain and member of the

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World Cup winning squad twists an ankle. At first he receives treatment and carries on, but not for long and is substituted by Maxwell Cornet in just the seventh minute. That’s disappointing for Lyon and for me; I had wanted to see Fekir play. Two minutes later Lyon’s Portuguese goalkeeper Anthony Lopes compounds Lyon’s misery as he foolishly tries to race Kylian Mbappe to the ball, which appears to be going out for a goal kick. Lopes doesn’t reach ball, but he does reach Mbappe and referee Monsieur Antony Gautier rightly points to the penalty spot. Neymar scores; rolling the ball gently to the right as the goalkeeper dives left, exactly as he did against Stade de Reims ten days before.
It’s been a messy start to the game and it doesn’t improve. Lucas Toussart is the first player booked after he commits a high tackle on Marco Verratti, but PSG’s Presnel

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Kimpembe then out does him by eliciting a red card from the top pocket of Monsieur Gautier for an assault on Tanguy NDombele. Weirdly, the dismissal is not instant as at first Monsieur Gautier goes to show a yellow card, but then looks again at the foul using the ‘VAR’. It is almost as having been caught Kimpembe is then tried before the verdict is reached. It would have been a nice touch if having reached his verdict the referee placed a black cap placed on his head before showing the red card. Only a few minutes after Kimpembe’s dismissal Neymar is booked for poleaxing Jeremy Morel, and after Lyon make another enforced substitution due to injury, Marco Verratti is also shown a yellow card after fouling Maxwell Cornet. Edinson Cavani is then substituted so that PSG can prop up their depleted defence, although the football press will later desperately try to make more of it, as ever failing to grasp that football is a team game. Other decent fouls go unpunished in terms of cards, but there are plenty of free-kicks to keep fans of set-pieces happy. The net result is no more goals and four minutes of unwanted additional time, but this is put to good use as Toussart trips Mbappe and receives a second yellow card from Monsieur Gautier and to end the half both teams have just ten players. If you like your football fast and violent, with every kick of the ball being matched by a kick of a player, it’s been a terrific half.
Half-time is an opportunity to rest and recuperate and I watch the electronic advertisement hoardings changing their messages. Although we are in Paris it is interesting how many of the advertisements are in English, another symptom of how clubs like PSG see themselves less as belonging to Paris and more as global brand. One advert for the Qatari National Bank mystifies me with its weird slogans “When you set your life goals, We can make the time right”. It all sounds very positive and inspiring, but what the hell does it mean? Equally hollow are the signs that read “Indonesia Stay Strong”; superficially all very laudable and who doesn’t wish the people of Indonesia well after the recent natural disasters? But slogans in a football grounds thousands of miles away don’t help them; perhaps a slice of PSG’s £500 million budget might though, if they really want to help.
The second half arrives and for a while Lyon look a threat. There is still only one goal in this game, a mere penalty at that, not a proper goal and Lyon are not being outplayed. I start to think PSG might not necessarily win this game. Neymar is setting up Mbappe however, and twice he puts him through on goal with just Lopes to beat, but he misses the first and his second shot is saved. Again Neymar puts Mbappé through and again he misses and then it happens yet again. I genuinely don’t think Mbappé has yet played as well for PSG as he did for Monaco and am on the verge losing patience with him. I begin to wonder if is he too young, if there too much pressure on him having been transferred for such a massive fee. Then with just about an hour of the match gone Neymar sets him up or a fifth time and this time he scores hitting both posts in the process and PSG lead 2-0. Five minutes later Mbappé scores again after interplay between Marquinhos and Verratti. Three minutes later Mbappé has a hat-trick as PSG hit Lyon on the counter OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAattack. Finally, after a further five minutes Mbappé scores his fourth goal and PSG ‘go nap’ as an attempt to set up Neymar sees the ball return to him with the invitation to score, which he accepts.
Mbappé and Neymar are incredible. Their speed and skill is wonderful to see. This is not like normal football and when PSG build up a lead like this they transform into a footballing version of the Harlem Globetrotters; this is pure footballing circus. When two minutes from time Neymar attempts an audacious and spectacular overhead kick, the crowd roars in appreciation. But this is all in sharp contrast to the first half, it is as if having two less players on the field, albeit one of them one of their own players has created that extra bit of space that Neymar and Mbappé use to run amok.
This was an unexpected result, even by the high standards of free-scoring PSG, but it has been a very strange game not least because two players were sent off before half time; then Mbappé contrived to miss four good chances all of which he is more than capable of scoring from, only to then go on and score four times in thirteen minutes. At the end of the match the PSG team line up as one to salute the Ultras at the Auteuil end and an extended love-in ensues with much jumping about and singing shared by players and supporters. The team are clearly very excited by the win and this has been a very special night, the like of which I am not sure I have ever seen. The closest I can come to it was when Ipswich beat Norwich City 5-0 but despite the joy of that night I don’t honestly think it matched the passion shown here tonight.

Walsham-le-Willows 3 Brantham Athletic 0

Today, Saturday 13th October, has been designated by persons unknown as “Non-League Day”, which is nice, but also a little patronising. It implies that non-league football is only of any consequence on this one day when there happens to be no Premier League or Championship football. There’s no ‘proper football’ today so you might as well go to a non-league game. Whatever my misgivings, I nevertheless feel it would be bad form if I didn’t go to a non-league game today, and so that is where I am going. Engineering works on the railway west of Ipswich has limited my choice of fixtures a little, to the extent that I am having to travel by car. So, in for a penny in for a pound I have chosen to make the trip to Walsham le Willows, which is pretty much inaccessible by public transport; at the time of writing the No 338 bus leaving Bury St Edmunds at 11:15 will get you to Walsham in bags of time for a 3pm kick off on a Saturday, but there is no bus back, only a bus to Diss at five-past six. The nearest railway station to Walsham is only 6 miles away in Elmswell, but the bus journey between the two involves going into Bury St Edmunds, getting on another bus and journeying back out, an adventure taking over two hours.
It’s a breezy, bright and unseasonably balmy autumn day for a drive through the mid-Suffolk countryside. My Citroen C3 carries me on through the rural splendour of Elmswell and Badwell Ash (there seems to be a tree fixation in local place names) once we have left the rough, patched up and noisy A14; the Highway to The Midlands. Arriving in Walsham-le-Willows I pass the splendid medieval church of St Mary with its wonderfully airy clerestory and fine proportions and then head up the delightfully named Summer Road, to what a firm of structural engineers from Bury St Edmunds has31437733648_4ca963f0c7_o presumably paid to now have called The Morrish Stadium. The word ‘stadium’ does not do this delightful football ground justice and there really needs to be another word to describe a football pitch within the boundary of a cricket pitch surrounded by trees with just a metal stand on the half way line and a small covered standing area behind one goal. There is car parking on both sides of the road, but that adjacent to the pitch and club house is full so I parkover the road by the impressive array of all-weather, 3G pitches that have been built in the past few years. This is a truly magnificent facility and not what you might expect to find in the depths of the Suffolk countryside.
Having neatly parked the Citroen, I leave the car park to cross the road and enter the precincts of the ‘stadium’. I pass an old boy who asks with an enquiring but soft Suffolk accent “Are you Brantham?” “No” I tell him “I think I’m probably impartial today”. “Oh well, that’s probably a good way to be” he replies. Buoyed by his vote of confidence I31437744428_77524097c4_o cross Summer Road and walk on through the little blue gate marked ‘Match day entrance’, which looks like it might also serve the village primary school, although it doesn’t. I walk across the car park to a wooden hut where I pay my entrance money (£7 – it’s gone up £1 since I was last here inn 2014) and am handed a small yellow ticket: “Admit One”. I also purchase a programme (still £1). In front of the club house and bar is a patio area laid out with chairs and tables at which people are sat talking and drinking. I cross the patio to a dark timber clad building, which houses the changing rooms and the tea bar. I order a bacon-butty (£2) from one of the three middle aged ‘dinner ladies’ and am impressed that the meat is supplied by a local butcher, Rolfes of Walsham. This is how local football clubs should be run, promoting and partnering local businesses, not churning out the cheap and the dubious offerings from the Cash n’ Carry.


Satiated I walk through the bar and use the toilet; I briefly consider buying a drink but it looks like only Greene King products are on offer, which is disappointing, so I don’t bother and step outside once again
It’s not long before the referee, his assistants and a few footballers appear in a huddle at the entrance to the changing rooms. They seem afraid to come out into the open but I 30372602607_cb6e1eae9b_oguess they are really just waiting to be sure no one gets left behind. Eventually referee Mr Alistair Wilson leads the teams along the open ‘corridor’ to the pitch where they all line up in front of the stand and indulge in the usual excessive shaking of hands; I always hope that one day the teams will also bow to the stand, but it hasn’t happened yet. Today Walsham are playing another ‘village team’, Brantham Athletic, in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division. Walsham are seventh in the league table after nine games and Brantham are just a point behind in eighth, but having only played six games due to a bit of a run in the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup. Coincidentally, both clubs are village sports clubs, although with Brantham originally being borne out of the local BX plastics factory (since closed and demolished). Both clubs also play on pitches where cricket is played in summer.

Walsham kick-off the game playing towards the tiny ‘covered end’ and the open country side beyond, in the direction of the A143 between Bury and Diss; they wear a dazzling kit of all yellow. Brantham Athletic (nickname The Imps) meanwhile, play in the direction of the bar, clubhouse and the village beyond, and wear an all blue kit with two white diagonal bars across the front. I find that Brantham’s is an unsatisfactory kit, although a good solid navy blue colour, the white bands make the players look like they might have been lying in the road when a white line painting truck came by. The design smacks of the designer of single colour kits having finally run out of ideas, the pressure of coming up with something different every year having at last become too much.
With both teams finally lined up the sound of the referee’s whistle is met with a loud bellow of “Willows” from a man in the main stand and the game begins. After that initial burst of support for The Willows, the people seated around me in the small stand are44399647925_a9d1413cd4_o silent, although the hum of lively conversation can be heard at the other ‘rowdier’ end of the stand where a group of men in their sixties and seventies stand on a small terrace. The peaceful ambience allows me to appreciate just what a lovely, bucolic setting this is. What is possibly an old pavilion on the far side of the site looks like a blacksmith’s shop and the breeze through the leaves of the trees seems to whisper Walsham le Willows.

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Uncomfortable with the silence I move and stand next to the Willows’ bench where I can enjoy some shouting and swearing from the coaches. “Movement” “Keep your shape” “Pressure” “Talk to him” are the calls from the unhappy sounding coaches. Brantham have started the better of the two teams and look more purposeful and confident and after nine minutes they win the game’s first corner; then a diagonal cross only just fails to be transformed into a close-range diving header, which might well have caused a goal had it materialised. On the small terrace I hear someone say “We always do well against these”, but The Imps win another corner and Walsham’s number six Craig Nurse commits the first foul on Brantham’s Joseph Yaxley. A Willows player complains to the referee and the coaches bemoan how he talks too much rather than getting on with the game. “Come on fellas, wake up!” then “Aaagh, fuck me” are the words from the bench. “We need one of the strikers on the number eleven” says The Willows’ Nurse to the bench, “Well do it then” is the not unreasonable response.
A quarter of an hour has passed, The Imps have not scored and The Willows are at last settling into the game and playing more successfully in their opponents’ half. All of a sudden a long range shot is tipped onto the cross bar by Brantham goal keeper Luke Evenell. A corner to Walsham follows, and then another one. I move and stand near to the Brantham bench and nearer to the goal that Walsham are attacking; the atmosphere amongst the coaches here seems less tense than on the Walsham bench, but I wouldn’t say they looked happy. Walsham’s number ten Niall McPhillips has been finding space and threading some decent passes through the Brantham defence. It hasn’t gone un-noticed, but so far the Imps’ defence has just argued about it amongst themselves. But then The Imps launch an attack of their own, and number eleven Daniel Rowe finds himself free on the left inside the penalty area, he shoots, but misses the target completely, skewing the ball high and wide. “Ooooh! Ah, ya bell-end” I hear an excited and then dejected voice say from the bench.
It’s almost half past three and Walsham win a third corner. The ball is struck quite low across the pitch and The Willows captain and number nine Jack Brame sidefoots the ball into the corner of the goal past a surprised looking goal keeper to give Walsham the lead. It was slightly unexpected, but in these games anything can happen and often does. Brantham carry on much as before, often getting their wide players to chase long balls but nothing comes of it and the highlight for me in the remaining time before half-time is a slightly panicky looking lofted clearance from Walsham’s Craig Nurse, which soars and then drops to earth with a satisfying clatter on the bonnet of a BMW behind the stand.
With half-time I head the queue for a pounds worth of tea and a sit down at one of the picnic tables on the patio. I hear one of the ‘dinner ladies’ asked if they are busy, “Not very” she says. I reflect on a pretty entertaining first half and flick through the programme. There’s quite a good ‘Half-Time quiz’ which is testing but answerable although question nine sets me thinking. ‘What was Sheffield United’s Brian Deane the first to do?’ it asks. The answer given is ‘Score the first ever Premier League goal’ and it makes me wonder who the second player was to score the first ever Premier League goal. Of course I don’t really care because I don’t give a toss about the Premier League.
Refreshed by what was a very good cup of tea, I watch the players return for the second half and note that the Brantham number six William Crissell is the only player to wear anything other than a ‘regular’ haircut, sporting as he does a very small top-notch. I imagine his influences are more Zlatan Ibrahimovic than Sikhism, although you never know. As the new half develops Walsham are gaining the upper hand and this encourages vocal encouragement from the crowd. “Come on boys – let’s have that other one” calls a man in a throaty Suffolk drawl. Number eleven Ryan Clark hits a post with a shot for Walsham and then screws a follow up shot wide but the second goal doesn’t arrive and a tension builds because Brantham still look capable of an equaliser. Some niggle enters the game and both sides complain to referee Alistair Wilson about perceived injustices and his failure to punish fouls with bookings. “Bottle job” is the accusation from the Walsham bench followed up with “For Chrissakes ma-an”. On the Brantham bench frustration grows that chances are not being made. When a pass is over hit I hear “He’s not getting that, he’s not Usain fucking Bolt”
It’s now about four thirty and it might stay like this, it might not. It doesn’t, as again a little unexpectedly, a shot flies into the top right hand corner of the Brantham goal from outside the penalty area; it’s a helluva goal and should win the game. Despite claims and counter claims for free-kicks and bookings from both sides, up until now the game has been played in a good spirit, but suddenly two players are on the ground and something happens between them which leads to pushing and shoving and a general melee and other players swarm around in an angry knot. If it was in a school playground they would have been chanting “Fight, fight, fight”. Mr Wilson the referee seems paralysed and for a while all he does is blow his whistle, it’s as if he’s trying to speak without taking it out of his mouth. He sounds like a Clanger on amphetamines. It’s all a bit unfortunate, but quite entertaining and the upshot is that Brantham’s number two Callum Bennett is sent off and Walsham’s number seven Ryan Gibbs is booked by Mr Wilson, once he’s stopped whistling. The action doesn’t stop there however as one of the Brantham coaches now berates Mr Wilson from the touch line in a sweary manner and he is sent off as well.
The game is up for Brantham and it’s no more than Walsham deserve when a shot from McPhillips hits the cross bar and number two Lee Warren drives home the rebound to round-off a 3-0 victory for The Willows. It’s been an entertaining afternoon and despite the imbalance in the final score the result was always in doubt until pretty close to the end. The sending’s off and shoving contest just added to the fun; no one wants to see such things really, unless a game is very boring, but when it happens we might as well enjoy it.
Summer Road, Walsham le Willows is a beautiful, bucolic place to watch a football match, especially on an autumn afternoon when the leaves on the surrounding trees are turning form green to gold and if it was closer to home I might come more often. The clichéd setting for football is an urban one, that’s where the evil Premier League is played out, but non-league football is played everywhere and if you want to get away far from the ‘big time’ this is possibly as good as it gets.

Paris St Germain 4 Stade de Reims 1

It has been a warm, sunny day in Paris beneath a clear blue sky. I have spent the afternoon in St Ouen, now a northern suburb of the city, but a town in its own right.

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I have visited Stade Bauer, the home of France’s second oldest football club Red Star, founded by no one less than Jules Rimet, in 1897. Sadly Red Star are not permitted to play there this season because it does not meet the standards of Ligue 2, and I am not surprised, it is quite alarmingly dilapidated and I am sure many people would consider it to be an absolute ‘dump’. But it has character, albeit the sort of character that means only one stand can be used and the long terrace at the site of the ground is a virtual ruin. Nevertheless, this club is clearly at the heart of its local community and whilst I was there children’s games and coaching sessions were taking place on the synthetic pitch and on the pitch behind the ground.
In total contrast to Stade Bauer and Red Star FC, tonight I shall be at Parc des Princes to see Paris St Germain (PSG) play Stade de Reims; Reims by the way is pronounced “Rance”, not “Reems” or “Reem” and as you say “Rance” go to put your tongue behind your top front teeth to make the “n” sound, but then don’t; you will hopefully end up with a satisfying nasally growl; one example of why French is such a beautiful language. BT Sport television commentators would do well to pay particular attention to the above.
The journey from Meudon Val Fleury , where my wife Paulene and I are staying, to Issy Val de Seine is a short one; just two stops on the RER suburban railway (1.95 euros each, each way). We sit at the back of the lower deck of the train, recreating the feel of ‘sitting up the back’ on the bus to school, although Paulene actually walked to school from her44942590311_4d3b434cb6_o house. From Issy Val de Seine train station it is a 20 minute walk or so to the Parc des Princes, crossing the river Seine over the Pont d’Issy des Molineaux with its view of the Eiffel Tower and then through back streets. The walk to the ground is not like the one to Portman Road that I am used to. There are no tantalising glimpses of floodlights and no smell of frying onions and nasty looking processed meat products. Parc des Princes, as large as it is, is not visible from far away; it squats or perhaps nestles amongst the expensive apartment blocks, offices and hotels of Boulogne-Billancourt.
Nearing Parc de Princes security is conspicuous with ‘road blocks’ to check tickets and direct us along specific streets according to which tribune (stand) one’s seat is located. The red team bus of Stade de Reims is guarded by a cordon of police in Kevlar armour.44025173585_b37d1e5baa_o The stadium is on our right across a park and all that is visible as we approach are the concrete ‘fins’ that cantilever the roof and make the stadium look like a huge decorated concrete pie which has slumped in the middle. Being France it is entirely possible that the design was inspired by a large pastry or fruit tartelette. Despite now being forty-five years old the stadium is still an impressive one and I am with its architect Roger Taillebert in believing that it should not be expanded in size; the integrity of the original design should be preserved.31064460688_7e352cdfe5_o
After a visit to the club shop (boutique) in which I particularly enjoyed the serried ranks 44942587611_72fcbe55dc_oof soft toy renditions of Neymar (reduced to 16.90 euros from 24.90) and the 3D model of Parc des Princes (29.90 euros), we enter the stadium itself. Unlike on the previous two occasions when we had been to Parc des Princes, and at the French Cup Final in the Stade de France, we do not need to show our passports. I am patted down and wished ”Bon match” by a man who looks as if the job is getting him hot and bothered and as I move on, he wipes his brow. Our seats (28 euros each) are in the lower tier to the right of the goal in the corner between the Auteuil and Borelli Tribunes; it’s a pretty good view but the electronic advert boards at pitchside mean we can’t see the near goal line and the guy ropes attached to advertising banners for Nike hanging from the roof of the stand annoy me. These things are sadly symptomatic of the sort of modern football club that is forever maximising its income and consequently forgets that its raison d’etre is so that people can watch live football in its stadium; without supporters in the stadium what is the point? Worse still, PSG does not produce a programme, free or otherwise, which sets it apart from most top French clubs and even the two Paris clubs in Ligue 2, Red Star and Paris FC; shame on PSG.
As the teams line up the public address announcer calls out the first names of each of the PSG players and the crowd call out their surnames in response. It’s a bit like the versicles and responses in an Anglican church service, but more shouty and not so boringly pious. They do this for every player including the substitutes until the announcer reaches the name of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, when after calling out “Eric” the rejoinder from the supporters is somewhat mumbled and muted. Eric needs to get himself a snappier surname if he’s going to be a success.
The teams line up before the usual banners showing the club crests and that of Ligue 1 and its sponsor Conforama, a large, national furniture retailer. The crowd behind the goal to our left is in full voice backed by two drummers who are at the front of the stand. “P-S-G, Allez, Allez, Allez; Allez, Allez, Allez; Allez, Allez, Allez!” they sing, to the tune of Yellow Submarine. These are the Ultras, of which there are several groups; they wave huge flags, one of which has been given a ragged appearance as if to channel the spirit of the 1830 and 1848 revolutions or the Paris Commune. With its seething mass of humanity it’s a scene Eugene Delacroix might have painted, had he not died in 1863.
The game begins with PSG kicking off and playing towards me, Paulene and the Ultras and in the rough direction of the Arc de Triomphe. PSG are wearing their kit of all navy blue with a fuzzy bib of red down the front of the shirt, whilst Reims are in their traditional kit of red shirts with white sleeves, white shorts and red socks. It might be said that Stade de Reims look a bit like Arsenal, but unlike the Gunners they have played in two European Cup finals. Stade de Reims are historically one of France’s greatest clubs with a rich history of Cup and League titles, which is perhaps why the fans of nouveau riche PSG boo them so unsportingly. Tonight, Reims are kicking in the direction of Meudon and the house where we are staying, and within two minutes they score as the Argentinian Pablo Chavarria charges down the left wing and pulls the ball back to Xavier Chavalerin who in one precise movement places the ball low beyond the outstretched figure of Gianluigi Buffon and just inside the far post. It is Reims’ first goal in four games. The Ultras carry on as if nothing has happened and in my head I punch the air and whisper Allez Reims.
Predictably PSG don’t waste time in going for an equaliser. Within seconds of the re-start Thomas Draxler’s 20 metre shot is saved by Reims goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and soon afterwards Edinson Cavani turns on a loose ball and strides forward of the nearest Reims player before producing the most spectacular and magnificent chip from outside the penalty area, which sails over Mendy’s head and into the far corner of the goal. It is a thing of beauty and a worthy equaliser.
PSG now dominate producing nothing less than an exhibition of mesmerising passing and running, but Reims are keen to attack on the break clearly realising that if they don’t score, PSG will. Edinson Cavani is a fabulous sight, with his long, dark hair flowing behind him he could be a central character from the French 1960’s children’s TV series known in Britain as The Flashing Blade (Le Chevalier Tempête in France). The imperious young Adrien Rabiot in midfield cuts a similar dashing figure, and likewise a lot of it is down to his hair; it is so hard to believe he was not a first choice for the French World Cup squad.
Meanwhile, the Ultras and their drums don’t let up as they produce a variety of rhythms and songs including, slightly bizarrely, ‘Yankee Doodle’, Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ and ‘My Darling Clementine’. It is now about twenty five minutes past nine and Edinson Cavani falls dramatically in the penalty area. Thomas Meunier replaces the44216940294_327da4a58a_o injured Colin Dagba in the short wait before Neymar scores from the penalty. Neymar places the ball casually to Mendy’s right whilst the goalkeeper goes left. Now that they lead, there seems no way that PSG will not win this match and they assume almost complete control, although Reims manage to hang onto the one goal deficit by defending stoutly. Despite appeals from PSG players and fans it takes until almost twenty to ten before the first Reims player is booked by referee Monsieur Olivier Thuai. Monsieur Thuai’s first victim is Alaixys Romao, predictably for a foul on the waifish Neymar who a little while beforehand had treated the crowd to one of his multiple rolls, this one at high speed. I can’t decide if Neymar dives or if he really is fouled more than other players. At times he makes the most of the challenges he receives, as most forwards do, but significantly Neymar is much quicker and much more skilful than most, if not all other forwards.
The first half is close to ending as Neymar wins another free-kick and drops the ball to the far corner of Mendy’s six-yard box. Mendy fumbles as he climbs to catch the ball and Cavani reacts instantly to lob the ball into the unguarded goal from an acute angle; it’s not a particularly beautiful goal but it’s a very skilful one nonetheless. Three minutes are added on to the original forty-five for stoppages, which gives Xavier Chavalerin time to send a shot over the PSG cross-bar, but he was really only trying his luck.
Half-time brings a visit to a small but recently refurbished and well-appointed toilet and a brief time spent queueing for two 600ml bottles of water (3 euros each), a coffee (2 euros), and a recyclable branded PSG cup for one of the bottles of water (2 euros); I juggle these items back to my seat . It is noticeable that many of the people here are tourists, like me and Paulene if I’m honest, although for us it’s really just another football match and Paulene is enrolled as a member, primarily to get tickets perhaps, but she is also enamoured of Cavani, Rabiot, Verrati, Di Maria and Buffon. The bloke behind us sounds Scandinavian, whilst in front a couple from the Far East make themselves conspicuous with their photography. For myself I am slightly mesmerised by the electronic advertising hoardings in front of the stands and between the tiers. The boards operate in such a way that the same advert appears all around the ground and the changes in colours and brightness with each change of advert is quite distracting as a different light is cast onto the pitch.
In due course the game begins again and the noise from the Ultras is so loud it vibrates the sides of the plastic water bottle I hold in my hand. This atmosphere is how I remember football back at home in the 1970’s, but better. If PSG dominated the first half then in this half their two goal advantage gives them the confidence to simply entertain. The Brazilian central defenders Marquinhos and Thiago Silva pass the ball between themselves across the penalty area, but In particular Neymar starts to show off his ability. Less than ten minutes into the half he runs at the Reims defence, passing two or three players with swift acceleration. A few minutes later Neymar does much the same again before passing cross field to Moussa Diaby whose low cross by-passes Mendy in the Reims goal to give Thomas Meunier a straightforward tap-in.
For the rest of the match I wonder what the French for “PSG go nap” is, but miraculously the fifth goal doesn’t come. Instead, Neymar provides a masterclass in flicks and turns and two-footed dribbling; with him to watch goals aren’t really needed. Anyone who doesn’t rate Neymar is an idiot, he is a marvel. I saw George Best play in a goalless draw against Ipswich in 1973 and he was hopeless, but that proves nothing. Neymar like Best is an entertainer and in essence we go to football to be entertained, although of course we must enjoy the misery too if we support a club like Ipswich Town has now become. I would go so far as to say that Neymar is nearly as good to watch as Frans Thijssen was and he is definitely quicker.
The second half passes in a blur of exhibitionism the like of which I can honestly say I have never seen before, and all for the price of a ticket pretty much equal to the cheapest available at Portman Road to watch Town struggle to a goalless draw with Bolton Wanderers. The match ends with Neymar putting Cavani through on goal only for the Uruguayan to clip his chipped shot against the cross bar and with Neymar having a free-kick well saved by the diving figure of Mendy. I’m not sure I like PSG, in fact I know I don’t, they are just a French Manchester City or Chelsea, the sort of club that has ruined football for the majority of football supporters and destroyed real competition; this match marks the first occasion on which PSG have won all of their opening seven league fixtures.  But despite the way in which the ‘big’ clubs like PSG have commodified football and tried to appropriate it and its best players all for themselves, the rough and untamed Ultras still exist and there is a bond between them and the players as evidenced at the end of the match as all the PSG players run to each end of the ground to commune with the fans and have a bit of a general love-in.

I cannot deny I have enjoyed seeing Neymar, Rabiot, Draxler, Di Maria, Cavani et al tonight, but those players would all still be as good if they all played for different clubs and the league would be more interesting for it. But heck , what am I going to do but write about it?

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Paris FC 2 FC Metz 1

DSC00331It is a cloudy, autumn Saturday afternoon as my wife Paulene and I board the RER suburban, electric, double-decker train at Meudon Val Fleury for the short journey (2.05 euros each) to Pont du Garigliano from where it is a further twenty-five minute tram ride (1.90 euros each) down busy, tree-lined boulevards to Stade Charlety, the current home ground of Paris FC. Today at 3 o’clock Paris FC will play FC Metz in Domino’s Pizza Ligue 2. If you plan your journey on the website of RATP, the Parisian transport company, several options are listed according to whether you want the quickest journey, the one with fewest changes, the one with least walking or one which provides disabled access. But with every route the website tells you the amount of CO2 emissions for your journey, our journey ‘cost’ 29 grams compared to a colossal 1758 grams by car; it’s Martin & Paulene 1 Global Warming 0 and the match hasn’t even started.DSC00220
It may be a grey day, but this is Paris, City of Lights and perhaps appropriately therefore the stadium floodlights are already shining as the tram draws up at the stop. On the next street, the Boulevard Jourdan is lined with the white vans of the Police Nationale and on the opposite corner the Le Gentilly bar and restaurant is surrounded by dark uniformed

police with riot shields and helmets. The Le Gentilly appears to be the chosen pre-match meeting place for the fans of today’s visiting team FC Metz who are top of Ligue 2 having won all of their seven games so far this season. In 2016 the Metz v Lyon game was abandoned after Metz supporters threw firecrackers at the Lyon goalkeeper, so they have ‘previous’. But the police presence still looks like overkill for what is a Second Division match at a club whose home crowds do not often exceed 3,000.
We hadn’t got around to buying tickets on-line so we pay a bit more and buy our tickets (15 euros each) at the guichets at the entrance to the stadium. We take a wander around, making a circuit of the stadium; spotting the respective team buses, Metz fans queuing

 

for tickets (only 8 Euros in the away ‘end’) and even more ‘tooled-up’ police. On a concrete support beneath the Peripherique is a poster for the Union PopulaireDSC00221 Republicain, a sort of French UKIP who peddle the somewhat stupid sounding ‘Frexit’, not that it’s any more or less stupid than ‘Brexit’.
Stade Charlety is named after the French historian and academic Sebastien Charlety who was associated with the nearby Cite Universite de Paris. Naming a sports stadium after an intellectual is pretty much unimaginable in England; just think of West Ham United not playing at the London Stadium but at the AJP Taylor Stadium or Tottenham at the Simon Schama Stadium. Stade Charlety dates originally from 1938 but was re-built in 1994, the architects being Henri Gaudin and his son Bruno, and a damn fine job they did too. The stadium is oval in shape, a segmented concrete bowl, partly single and partly two-tiered, sitting beneath a sweeping, curving, rising and falling roof floating on steel supports, with four floodlight towers each leaning and raking forward as if to peer over the roof at the pitch. The stadium has 20,000 seats and conveys the drama, excitement and sense of occasion that a stadium should.DSC00209
Keen now to experience the stadium from the inside we walk through the turnstiles and our tickets are scanned by hand held devices before we are patted down and wished “Bon match” in the habitual way of French football. In a corner at the back of a stand is a very talented and entertaining band of five brass players and a drummer providing a soundtrack to the pre-match build-up. We both pick up copies of the free eight pageDSC00223 colour match programme (only one page is an advertisement) and are each given a free Paris FC flag. I reflect on how I have been a season ticket holder at Portman Road for 35 years and as ‘thanks’ for my loyalty and thousands of pounds all the club has ever given me is a baseball hat, a metal badge and a car sticker; I’ve been here less than five minutes and on the strength of just one 15 euros ticket Paris FC have already given me a programme and a flag. I like that the programme is called ‘Le Petit Parisian’ making a virtue of Paris FC’s ‘small club’ credentials, a poignant contrast no doubt to the behemoth that is Paris St Germain. According to Planete Foot magazine, Paris FC drew average crowds of just 3,070 last season and this season have a budget of 11 million euros compared to PSG’s budget of about 560 million euros; this against a background of PSG having evolved out of Paris FC as a ‘breakaway’ club in 1972.
Bowled over by Gallic generosity and with hearts lifted by the music of the little band we head for gangway 109 off which we can sit where we choose. Seats chosen I head back into the concourse and to the buvette to buy a bag of crisps (2 euros) and plastic cups of mineral water and Orangina (5 euros for the two, including the re-usable Paris FC branded cups). Paris FC has no club shop as you might find at an English league club or at the larger French clubs, but there is a hatch between the buvettes from which two young Franco-African women are selling replica shirts, scarves and assorted merchandise. Unable to resist a souvenir I buy a pennant or petit fanion (5 euros) which, when I get back to Blighty I shall hang it in the toilet with all the others.
Back at our seats the quarter of the stadium behind the dug-outs is filling up with flag toting Parisians and a sprinkling of Metz fans, who probably live in Paris. The Metz fans who have made the 330km journey from Alsace are all corralled on the other side of the stadium in a section of the upper tier, with a battalion of stewards and police seemingly watching their every move. As three o’clock approaches the public address system begins to play a sort of minimalist electronica with hints of John Barry, which gathers pace, building as the teams walk side by side onto the pitch to shake hands before a back drop of huge banners showing the club crests and the Domino’s Pizza Ligue 2 logo. A man in aDSC00234 suit, Paris FC scarf and pointy shoes, who looks a bit like the late Keith Chegwin parades before us with a radio mike as he announces the teams.
The teams line up with Metz in a change kit of all white and Paris FC in all navy blue. FC Metz kick-off playing in the direction of the tram stop, and generally north towards the Pompidou Centre far beyond, whilst Paris FC play towards Orly airport. From the start Metz are neat and energetic, passing well and closing Paris FC down quickly whenever they win the ball. In front of us and to our right a group of thirty or forty Ultras (possibly the ‘Old Clan’ group) are rallied by a young bloke with a small white megaphone which looks 44906431821_ffcf83e1cb_olike it is only a toy. He faces his colleagues and misses virtually the whole game. The Ultras stand and clap and sing without pause and one of them bangs a drum. “P -F -C, P-F-C” they chant, for that is how Paris FC are commonly known. One guy has a beer in his hand meaning he can’t clap, so he just slaps his head with his free hand, taking a second to tidy his hair when he’s finished.
Despite Metz looking the more accomplished team they don’t test the Paris goalkeeper and it is the home team who manage the first decent shot at goal from number twenty-six Dylan Saint-Louis, which Metz goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja dives low to his right to save. Metz continue to look confidant and strong but PFC are matching them. It’s only just gone ten past three and PFC left-back, number eighteen Romain Perraud strides forward, he rides a block tackle stumbling over a leg but taking the ball with him and looks to go for goal. He is over twenty metres from Oukidja the man between the Metz goal posts and I don’t expect to see the ball go flying in to the far top corner of the net and dropping to the grass inside the goal, but it does. It is a spectacular goal, easily the best I have seen so far this season. A goal behind, Metz have further troubles as they have to make a substitution and Senegalese Opa Nguette is replaced by Malian Adama Traore due to injury.
Conceding the goal has not dampened the Metz fans’ spirits however, as they continue to wave their own flags and banners. Behind us to our left another group of PFC Ultras DSC00254(possibly the ‘Ultras Lutetia’ group) have their own somewhat bigger drum and bigger flags but no megaphone, well not as far as I can see anyway. A fine drizzle is falling now and the stadium announcer who strutted about in pointy, shiny shoes before kick-off shelters beneath an umbrella. Rain drops run down the back of the transparent covers to the dugouts and it feels every bit like a quintessential autumn afternoon at the football. It’s marvellous and not only because this is Paris.
At last, after over twenty minutes of play Metz manage a shot on target, but it’s an easy save for Vincent Demarconnay the ‘keeper for PFC. Despite Metz’s failings in front of goal they still look a good team and this is an entertaining game, well worthy of the live TV coverage it is receiving this afternoon; the large cameras at the side of each goal look oddly old-fashioned however and conjure memories for me of Grandstand and Sportsnight with Coleman. It’s just gone half past three and Metz win a corner on the far side of the pitch from which their Zambian number thirteen Stoppila Sunzu sends a powerful header down towards the goal line; for a split second it looks like it must be the equaliser but the ball meets the boot of Romain Perraud and skews off his foot for a throw. Perraud has effectively scored twice for Paris now, without him they might be a goal down, rather than a goal up.
Half-time is less than ten minutes away and although they are the underdogs Paris FC are playing well and deserve their lead, then what seems like disaster strikes, compounded by it being a gross injustice. In an incident similar to the sending off of Ipswich Town’s Toto N’Siala at Sheffield Wednesday earlier this season, PFC’s Julian Lopez slides along the wet turf to get the ball, which he does, a moment later however

and Metz’s Thomas Delaine arrives and falls over Lopez‘s leg, twisting as he falls. The referee Monsieur Pierre Gaillouste, who has an annoying and unnecessary habit of running quickly up to players whenever a foul occurs, does so again and shows Lopez the red card. We are all outraged. It was not a foul, if anything Delaine fouled Lopez. As a neutral this should be pure theatre to me, but the injustice is intolerable and I decide that Paris FC must win.
The sending off has distorted the match and I cannot really see that Paris can hold on, but in injury time they win a corner which Metz forget to defend and the wonderfully named Cameroonian defender Frederic Bong heads the ball into the middle of the Metz goal to double PFC’s lead. I leap from my seat and stick it to Monsieur Gaillouste and his inept refereeing. Half-time soon arrives and I can enjoy it. I return to the buvette with the thought of a celebratory beer but the queue is too long.
The game begins again and within a minute Habib Diallo scores for Metz with a header from a cross by Thomas Delaine. I fear the worst for PFC now but Metz fail to capitalise and PFC defend brilliantly. Metz show growing frustration, Traore looks to the heavens as he sends a low, bobbling shot bouncing weakly past a post and Marvin Gakpa is booked after following through with a challenge on the PFC goalkeeper. The Metz coach Frederic Antonetti, a balding, solid man who wears what I would describe as a Marks & Spencer jumper patrols the area in front of his team’s dugout, shaking his head and looking displeased. I think I can smell a cannabis cigarette, but it’s not from Monsieur Antonetti. On the other side of the ground the incidence of flag waving has definitely reduced. Now Renaud Cohade, who I thought was the main force in the Metz midfield is replaced by the Algerian Farid Boulaya and as the electronic substitution board is held aloft Paulene casually asks how many double A batteries I think it takes.
Paris FC are restricted to defending in depth but they are succeeding and cannot expect to do too much else with only ten players against probably the best team in the league. There are still twenty minutes left as PFC’s Ivorian Edmond Akichi, billed in the programme in his own words as a midfield battler goes down and a stretcher is needed to carry him off. Number six Romenique Koumane replaces Akichi but suddenly Akichi is up on his feet again appearing to say he wants to play on, only for him to even more suddenly double-up in pain up clutching his knee before being helped away.
There are less than ten minutes to go and PFC are holding out well and even almost score a third goal as Souleymane Karamoko breaks down the right and into the penalty area; the ball goes out and he goes down. “Penalty!” I cry, because anything has been shown to be possible with this referee, but it’s a corner which number twenty-seven Jonathan Pitroipa, who is from Burkina Faso, heads very wide. There are four minutes of added time to endure, but PFC survive them whilst all Metz do is to collect another booking, this time for Emmanuel Riviere as he flicks a passing foot at the PFC goalkeeper, or at least that’s what the referee thought.
The final whistle brings unbridled joy, something I don’t often experience at football matches any more. This has been an excellent match, one the best of the ten or so I have seen in Ligue 2. I hadn’t expected a lot from a crowd of just a few thousand (the attendance will later be reported as 5,097) in a 20,000 capacity stadium with a running track around the pitch, but I was wrong. Despite swathes of empty seats there has been a really good atmosphere in the small part of the stadium that is open and with minimal stewarding it has felt a bit like an English non-league game. I have loved seeing so many African players, it’s been like a mini African Cup of Nations and Paris FC have played superbly well to beat a good, but on the day ineffective Metz team, who nevertheless remain one of the favourites for promotion. I have nothing in particular against Metz, but it was great to witness their first defeat after seven straight victories. If only my team Ipswich Town could now get their first win.

Paris St Germain 6 Red Star Belgrade 1

A bit after 5 o’clock on another sunny, early autumn afternoon in Ile de France and my wife Paulene and I arrive at Meudon Val Fleury station to find that the suburban RER train service is suspended for at least two hours because someone has unfortunately been hit by a train at Champ de Mars station. The Paris St Germain versus Red Star Belgrade match in Group C of the European Champions League kicks-off at six fifty-five, which is a bit of an odd hour, and it means that a different mode of transport will be required to get to the game on time. Seasoned travellers that we are, we don’t panic, but stroll round to the front of the station and across the forecourt to the bus stop where a No 289 bus is conveniently just drawing up. In just twenty minutes this bus will take us to Porte de St Cloud, which is more or less just over the road from Parc des Princes. Our carbon footprint will be bigger courtesy of the Iveco diesel engine, but what can you do? We board the bus and validate our tickets (1.49 euros each if bought as a carnet of ten).
It’s a fun ride through the streets of western Paris and we have a driver who likes to use his horn; at one stage he leans out of his cab window to converse with the driver of a45092035431_3e911401fd_o Peugeot who has pulled across in front of him. With car drivers cowering, the bus pulls onto the cobbled surface of the Porte de St Cloud bus station and, along with a handful of blokes sporting various Paris St Germain branded attire, we alight and make the short walk to Parc des Princes. Our tickets tonight (48 euros each) are in the Paris tribune, the stand which has its back to the centre of Paris. It is a dramatic approach to the stadium as we cross a bridge over the 45092036911_0ff19c18d1_opériphérique, Paris’s inner ring road, which actually passes underneath the corner of the Paris tribune. Of all those ‘you can see the stadium from here’ moments that you get on car and rail journeys, this has to be the best. We walk past the PSG supporters’ shop (most definitely not the official club shop) with its delightful “Fuck Marseille” scarves. It’s not much past six o’clock and it’s still light, and the concrete ‘fins’ that define the silhouette of the stadium look fantastic; Parc des Princes may be over forty years old but it’s a marvellous sight, a far more exciting looking building than any stadium in Britain.
Security arrangements mean some queuing to get in, with everybody patted down by44180984635_6f060b44f6_opeople wearing what look like knitted gloves; it’s a matter of luck how quick or thorough your ‘patter’ is. My ‘patter’ is slow and thorough; Paulene’s patter may be no quicker, but as she only has to deal with women in a crowd of mostly men the queue to be patted down is shorter. This means that by the time I get to the turnstile itself, Paulene is already in the stadium. We have tickets that were sent by e-mail to Paulene and she then sent my ticket to my mobile phone, so ‘all’ I should have to do is pass the black and white patterned thingy in the e-mail beneath the electronic reader at the turnstile. But the reader doesn’t like what I place under it; it seems it needs to read the original rather than the one Paulene forwarded to me. It takes a steward to explain this to me of course and I send two desperate texts to Paulene: “I can’t get in”, “Come to the turnstiles” I plead. As my wife and carer, Paulene immediately understands and answers my call; the reader reads the ticket from her phone and I get inside the stadium. Technology and I are sworn enemies, but everything has worked out fine, until the next time.
Out of gratitude and because she asked me to I treat Paulene to a bottle of Coca Cola (2.50 44371980404_8bb98469c4_oeuros), but I decide to go thirsty because I object to buying a bottle of drink from which the cap is confiscated. I am a 58 year old adult and can be trusted with a plastic bottle top, so “shove your Coca-Cola and other topless bottled drinks where the sun doesn’t shine” is my message to PSG. I later buy a coffee (2 euros) to keep me alert against other possible infringements of my human rights. The spirit of Mai ’68 lives on.
PSG has e-mailed Paulene earlier in the day to warn that trouble was a possibility at tonight’s game from followers of Red Star Belgrade (FK Crvena Zvezda in Serbian), who might have dodged any efforts to segregate supporters. It seems like an admission that PSG have failed to properly control ticket sales and they also advise away supporters not to wear club colours, which surely increases the possibility for trouble by making them impossible to spot. We had heard lots of Balkan voices as we approached the stadium, but there was no sign of any antagonism between French and Serbs. Inside the stadium we find ourselves sat behind a row of blokes in their thirties or early forties who are clearly Belgrade supporters but they seem a bit like the sort of ‘youngish professionals’ you might find at a rugby match in England or in the Greyhound pub in Ipswich; two of them wear Mercedes Benz lanyards which suggests they may have wangled a trip to Paris on the back of the current motor show at Porte de Versaille.
Our seats are close to the front of the stand and in a corner, close to where the Paris45043601722_1f79f55979_o tribune ends and the Boulogne tribune begins. A wedge of Belgrade supporters are nearby to our left, behind a large net which hangs from the roof of the stadium, and a moat. More Serbians fill a batch of seats in the upper tier of the stadium, away to our right. The Auteuil end of the stadium where the bulk of the Paris Ultras are usually accommodated is completely empty tonight, presumably a sanction by UEFA for some previous transgression by the Ultras, probably the use of flares. The noise level is reduced as a result, but there is still a decent atmosphere inside the ground, but then there are still over 39,000 people here.


Pre-match entertainment includes the players’ warm-ups to a soundtrack of tunes from the ‘legendary’ Charles Aznavour, who sadly died earlier this week and some serious watering of the pitch, which reminds me of the spectacular fountains at the gardens of the palace of Versaille. I am a little surprised that PSG haven’t considered choreographing the sprinklers to a musical accompaniment. At last the overblown Champions League anthem, that rip-off of 45092131931_858bdc0502_oHandel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’, strikes up and the teams line up on the pitch whilst some young people stand in a circle and shake a big circular thing; it looks to me like they are shaking the crumbs off a massive table cloth, possibly one used by UEFA officials in some lavish pre-match banquet; the comparisons with Versaille continue. Tonight PSG are wearing an all-black strip, whilst Red Star Belgrade wear red and white, looking like Stoke City from the front and Fleetwood Town from the back.
The game begins with PSG having first go with the ball and aiming in the direction of the banks of empty seats at the Auteuil end of the ground; Belgrade shoot towards the Boulogne-Billancourt end. Predictably, the first free-kick of the game, and the second, is awarded for a foul on Neymar. Backed by chants of “Red Star, Red Star” the Serbians have the first shot on goal however, as a poor header from Presnel Kimpembe is half-volleyed into the beautiful blue evening sky by Goran Causic. Belgrade look keen but translate this into committing lots of fouls. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria are a bit too quick for them. The Belgrade number thirty-one El Fardou Ben from the Comoro Islands is very chunky, a sort of scaled down Ade Akinbayi. To begin with he looks like he might be a handful for the PSG defence, but he’s not and in the pantheon of chunky players is probably no better than former Ipswich Town superstar Martyn Waghorn.
Having weathered the early Red Star enthusiasm, Paris St Germain settle down into totally dominating possession, as is their habit. With twenty-minutes gone a free-kick is granted to PSG in a position from which it is almost inevitable Neymar will score, and he does. Two minutes later he performs a brilliant high-speed one-two with Kylian Mbappe and scores again. Mbappe is set up by Neymar but the Belgrade goal keeper Milan Borjan saves at his near post and then saves a header from Edinson Cavani. Marco Verratti is magnificent in midfield, winning the ball back almost instantly every time a move breaks down. Edinson Cavani scores the third goal just after half-past seven before a Thomas Meunier cross, or possibly even a pass, is delicately flicked in by Angel Di Maria four minutes before half-time. Paris St Germain are magnificent and I’ve seldom if ever seen the like of it before.
At half-time we feel we need a rest, not just because our collective breaths have been taken away by the sumptuous football, but also because the Serbian blokes in front of us have been stood up throughout the first-half and we need a bit of a sit-down. Whilst they go off to pay 7 euros for non-alcoholic beer in PSG branded plastic cups we can rest in relative comfort and gaze upon the green of the pitch without having to look over their neatly cut heads of hair.
The second half is soon underway however, and the Serbians return looking suspiciously at their beers. Paulene now stands by a free seat further back across the gangway because the Serbs have played musical chairs and a tall one and a shorter one have swapped places so her view is obstructed. The second-half proves even more exciting as Mbappe attacks down the left and we get to witness his remarkable speed at close quarters from which he looks even faster. But the PSG forwards and attacking midfield are so free, interchangeable and flowing that anyone can pop-up anywhere. Mbappe pops up regularly but misses every time and by the time he does score Belgrade have even had a couple of shots on target of their own. In the far corner of the ground some Paris Ultras have begun to wave banners, one says Paris, whilst a second is clearly aimed at winding up the Serbs and reads ‘Kosovo’, a part of the country that has declared independence from Serbia; although Serbia recognises the government it sees Kosovo as its own province.44171686915_83e7470fae_o
Belgrade’s Filip Stojkovic is the first player to be booked by Portuguese referee Artur Dias Soares, when he tugs at Neymar’s shirt; Stojkovic just couldn’t wait until the end of the match to claim his souvenir. Mbappe’s eventual goal is scored two minutes later with 70 minutes played, it’s a relative tap-in from a bamboozling passing move instigated by Neymar that should have resulted in a goal sooner, but previous shots were blocked. The only surprise is that it’s taken so long for the fifth goal to be scored, but any sense of shock is eclipsed four minutes later as Milan Miran scores with a fine shot for Belgrade. The Serbian fans are ecstatic and make the most of their only opportunity to celebrate this evening, which is a lesson to all football supporters of losing teams, Ipswich Town fans please take note. But not to be outdone the Paris Ultras also light four or five flares on the opposite side of the ground where the flags were, for which the club will no doubt be punished in some way by UEFA.43269643400_d3ee064df0_o
A man in a dark suit appears from the back of the stand to ask everyone to sit down as people behind can’t see. He has some success but it’s a bit late for this now and within ten minutes everyone is stood up again anyway. But we see the last ten minutes with an unobstructed view because the Serbs in front can’t take any more and leave. All that remains is for Neymar to complete his hat-trick with a second perfect free-kick over the defensive wall into the top left hand corner of Milan Borjan’s goal.
This has been the fourth time I have seen PSG at Parc des Princes and I can’t but help feeling a little disconnected from these matches, because PSG are the French version of Manchester United or Bayern Munich, and are the club who everyone except their own supporters loathes. I can’t help disliking them too because their un-earned wealth distorts and compromises the French league and Cup competitions. But I have to admit that tonight PSG have played brilliantly and produced possibly the best football I have ever seen, better even than Ipswich Town’s during the 1980-81 season. English commentators will no doubt debunk the win by saying that Red Star Belgrade are a weak side, but the brilliance of Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani, Rabiot, Di Maria, Meunier and Verratti just cannot be denied. This has been a fantastic evening’s football.

Meudon AS 0 St Ouen L’Aumone AS 2

Today is the last day of September, my wife Paulene and I are staying in Meudon on the edge of Paris and having enjoyed both professional Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 football in the past week and a bit, watching both Paris FC and Paris St Germain, this afternoon we are getting down with the French equivalent of ‘non-league’. Not much more than ten minutes away by car at the Stade Georges Millandy in Meudon Le Foret (twenty minutes by bus service No 289) is a Coupe de France fourth round tie between Meudon AS of the Ile de Paris regional league Division 3 and St Ouen L’Aumone AS of the Ile de Paris regional league Division 1. These leagues are the 6th and 8th levels of the French football league ladder, although probably not directly comparable to those levels in the English non-league ‘pyramid’.
The parking at the local community sports centre, where the match is to take place is full, so we park our Citroen C3 around the corner in Rue Georges Millandy between large blocks of modern apartments. We are not sure exactly where we are going, but the Federation Football Francais (FFF, the French Football Association) website says this is the where the match is taking place and having walked through a corridor in a sports hall we find ourselves next to an artificial football pitch. There is no turnstile and watching this match is free. A bunch of blokes in tracksuits sit outside a portacabin eating baguettes and drinking coffee. In my exquisite school boy French I ask if this is this is where the Coupe de France game is taking place at 2.30; I am relieved to learn that it is and flattered that the man I speak to recognises the Ipswich Town crest on my T-shirt. I explain that I am a fan and not from the club itself, but we both quickly make the connection that Ipswich’s Under 18 player Idris El Mazouni is from Meudon. I will later discover that I have been talking to Idris’s dad.
The Stade Georges Millandy is not a stadium as we might understand it in Britain because it has no stands, it’s just a 3G synthetic pitch with dugouts and a metal fence, overlooked by five or six large, shiny white apartment blocks.

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It wouldn’t make the grade for the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League, although in truth the playing facilities are better than at most clubs in that league. It seems quite new, is in good condition and is the sort of installation that a town the size of Ipswich should probably have at least ten of. Given that these pitches are not cheap to install it is doubly impressive that the surface extends beyond the actual pitch to the area around it, with a mini pitch and goals in the space behind one goal. A game (possibly Under 15s) is

just finishing with a penalty shoot-out and I return to the portacabin, which is a sort of club house and buvette, to get two cups of green tea and a Kit-Kat (all 1 euro each); the tea is poured from a huge pot. On one wall is a large array of trophies won by all age groups within the club.

Paulene and I wander around the pitch as we drink our tea and I scoff Kit-Kat trying to remember why Nestle products were boycotted and if they still should be; too late now I have become complicit in their multi-national nastiness. It is a beautiful, bright sunny 45013661531_f3c54472c1_oafternoon beneath a clear blue sky and the gaze of those shiny apartment blocks, which cast no shadows on one another or the pitch; this has to be how Le Corbusier imagined La Ville Radieuse.

 

A man in a loosely belted gabardine raincoat appears; if he was wearing a trilby hat he could have stepped from a 1940’s film. He sports a bright arm band which adds to the look, but in a slightly sinister manner; he is however the délègue principal, the FFF official who 43201967200_10152fe2e5_owill oversee this afternoon’s game from the side lines. Out of the blue one of the spectators walks up to me and shakes my hand. In due course the two teams emerge from their respective changing rooms and walk through the metal gate onto the pitch before lining up side by side, then in a line before shaking hands. Introductions between the referee and players and délègue principal are made all-round, before the game kicks off about five minutes late (it was advertised as a 14:30 kick–off) with St Ouen having first go with the ball, aiming at the goal in front of the buvette. Meudon kick in the general direction of far off Stade Charlety and the 13th Arrondissement. St Ouen wear an all-green kit, whilst Meudon are all in red; neither club has its club crest on its shirts but instead bear the logo of the FFF with its cockerel.

St Ouen quickly win a free-kick as their tricky number nine goes down under a challenge; he gets up to send a neat free-kick over the red wall of Meudon, but into the arms of the very young looking Meudon goalkeeper, who strangely is one of the smallest players on the pitch, a sort of French Laurie Sivell. It is also St Ouen who have the second serious goal attempt, again a free-kick, but this time firmly hit from a wide position by their number ten. Once again the goalkeeper, whose blond hair may not be its original30077406907_10dcb243ea_o(1) colour, saves, batting the ball away for the first of five corners that St Ouen will win this half. Most of these corners are either poorly taken or all the St Ouen players are waiting for the ball in the wrong places.
Meudon are very competitive and the game is played at a fast pace with the emphasis on passing rather than just getting the ball forward by the fastest route. Meudon come close to scoring a bit before three o’clock as their huge number eleven breaks through on the left. The St Ouen goalkeeper, who incidentally reminds me of St Etienne ‘keeper Stephane Ruffier on account of his designer stubble and very short dark hair, and is possibly the second smallest on the pitch dives at his feet. The ball rebounds to the Meudon number seven whose goal-bound shot is headed away at improbably close range.
Meudon seem to be growing in confidence and their number ten does a few feints and jinks over the ball like a footballing Michael Jackson (Bubbles’ friend, not the one who played for Tranmere and Shrewsbury) might have done. There are a few jeers and within the next twenty seconds his ankles are swept away from beneath him by the St Ouen number three as he goes to dribble down the right touchline. It’s one of those situations that some people would try to excuse by saying that number ten had been ‘disrespectful’, but that’s just a modern buzzword, a sort of false political correctness and it is tosh; I blame Eastenders. Football is a game of skill and dumping someone on their bum shows little ‘respect’ itself. Referee Monsieur Charly Legendre doesn’t see fit to book anyone either way.
The coaches on the side lines are animated, “Parlez –vous” one calls urging his players to talk to one another. The St Ouen coach, a portly man in his fifties sports a fine mullet and43201968530_160c2105a2_o has the look of Maradona about him. The Meudon coach becomes involved in a prolonged discussion with the linesman Mefa Bakayoko about an offside or a free-kick which has been and gone and so no longer matters. On the field the St Ouen number ten sends a free-kick solidly over the cross bar whilst Meudon’s number six comes as close as anyone else with a long range shot that goes wide. St Ouen’s number nine is proving industrious and creates a couple of shots for himself one of which is well saved and Meudon replace their number three with substitute number thirteen. Half-time arrives and Paulene and I look back on a good but slightly frustrating forty-five minutes, which was too tight to be really entertaining. I head for the buvette to get a bottle of water (1 euro).
During the half-time break we stand about and as a man walks by he shouts “Ipswich!”. We could do with that sort of enthusiasm at Portman Road. As I stand I enjoy the44294420204_39f8378ac4_o contents of the many balconies that overlook the pitch from the surrounding apartments. Bikes, mattresses, plants and drying clothes decorate the bright white buildings and on one corner is a tricolour, perhaps left over from the summer’s World Cup win. As the afternoon wears on more people seem to arrive to watch the game and by the end I estimate that at least one-hundred people are here.
The délègue principal oversees the away team leaving their dressing room by a side door to the sports centre building and heads back to the pitch still wearing his gabardine raincoat, although it’s a warm afternoon; he is perhaps the anti-thesis of the banker in The Beatles’ Penny Lane and also feels as if he’s in a play, or a British TV sitcom. The bearded referee begins the game again and St Ouen soon win their sixth and seventh corners of the game, although in between their number eleven also shoots over the cross bar. At about four o’clock the St Ouen number eleven breaks forward through the middle, stretching the Meudon defence before playing a through ball to number ten who slips the ball inside the near post past the ‘blond’ goalkeeper; St Ouen lead 1-0.
They may be losing and disappointed to be doing so, but Meudon still pose a threat and a good run and cross from number eleven meets the thigh of number seven just a few yards out, but he can’t direct the ball past the goal keeper. The first booking of the game goes to Meudon’s number two and the game enters a tetchy stage where it seems it could flare up at any moment. As at most French football matches I have seen where this happens however, there are only outbreaks of animated discussion between the players, but the referee stands back and let’s this carry on. It’s a civilised approach which may reflect the character of a country that has produced far more philosophers than England has produced ‘World Class’ footballers.
St Ouen are buoyed by their goal and their bearded number three controls a ball beautifully on his chest before advancing down the flank. The lads watching near us jeer at his skill and nickname him Fekir, and they’re right to do so because he does vaguely resemble the French international. But Meudon are not beaten yet and the large number eleven strides past a couple of St Ouen players before playing a through ball to number twelve who either wasn’t paying attention or the pass wasn’t as good as it looked. Paulene and I belatedly realise that the number twelve has replaced the number seven, who we had thought was Meudon’s best player.
St Ouen almost score a second goal as their number nine diverts a cross from ‘Fekir’ the wrong side of the post from close range, but the game is becoming more scrappy and there are more fouls. The Meudon number ten spends more time than most not being upright. St Ouen win an eighth corner and as a passage of play ends Monsieur Legendre calls over Meudon’s number nine and ‘Fekir’ and books them for a mystery offence that neither Paulene or I saw. It is now gone half past four and we are witnessing time added on as St Ouen’s number eight runs down the right and then pulls the ball back across the penalty area for substitute number fourteen to side foot beyond the small, blond goalkeeper into the far corner of the goal.  St Ouen L’Aumone AS is the name that will go into the draw for the 5th round of the Coupe de France.
It’s been a reasonable game although not an exciting one in terms of goalmouth action. We turn to leave and Paulene notices a man with an Ipswich Town crest on his coat; I speak to him and it turns out he is the father of a second player from Meudon AS who is now in Ipswich Town’s Under 18 squad, Lounes Fodil. 44294397894_dca5642a04_oLounes’s dad, who is called Mustapha (apologies if the spelling is wrong) is a lovely bloke and is genuinely pleased to meet us and invites us for a coffee in the buvette. Our conversation probably isn’t the best as neither our French nor Mustapha’s English are fully fluent, but Mustapha gets across his philosophy of football; it’s a game of skill and intelligence not brute strength. He’s been to Portman Road and has noticed the glum atmosphere, which he attributes to the dull football. Whilst we are at the buvette some of the players come in for post-match drinks and snacks, one of them (I think it might have been the big number eleven or the captain) tells me Lounes is a good player. I tell him that’s good news because Ipswich Town really needs some good players; before he leaves he shakes my hand. The man who I first spoke to when we arrived comes to the bar counter and gets out his mobile phone before showing us a montage of clips of Idris El Mizouni playing for the Under 18’s, this is when I discover that this is Idris’s dad.
After a good half an hour or more we have to leave and walk from the ground with Mustapha who leaves us his phone number and invites us round to eat; sadly Paulene’s food intolerances and allergies will make that too complicated. We thank Mustapha and say how good it has been to meet him. Hopefully we will see him again.

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