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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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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Haverhill Borough 0 Felixstowe & Walton United 3

Haverhill and Felixstowe are on opposite sides of the county of Suffolk, Felixstowe being in the far east, on the coast, Haverhill in the far west, almost in Cambridgeshire and as close as anywhere in Suffolk gets to a motorway, the M11. Unless you live within walking distance, getting to Haverhill is only possible by road, the town having been deprived of its railway by Dr Beeching in the late 1960’s; a really stupid decision given that in the same decade Haverhill was chosen as one of a number of small towns which would expand with ‘overspill’ population from London. Cambridge is where trains comes closest and then it’s a number 13 bus to Haverhill. The town now has a population of some 28,000 compared to the 5,500 who lived here before it was expanded; it could do with its own railway station, it’s one of the largest towns without one.
My journey by car to Haverhill, whilst not a good thing for the environment is pleasurable enough as I drive along the winding roads of north Essex, darkened by drying smears of damp from earlier in the day. A watery sun appears beneath and between dark clouds and brilliant yellows and golds from leaves that still cling to grey trees illuminate the roadside. Thatched and half-timbered buildings line the way, there’s a village green, a closed pub called the Sugar Loaves, two football teams observe a minute’s silence as I pass by; this is rural England on a Saturday afternoon in autumn.
Driving out of the wonderfully named village of Sturmer I reach the edge of Haverhill, with its industrial estates and business park and row upon row of bland estate housing. At its edge it’s a bleak looking place, a mini new town, out of keeping with its rustic, geographical location. But the grey cloud has cleared and the sky is now blue, I follow the orbital road around the north of the town carefully negotiating the rubber, traffic calming speed bumps. Just past a large school, or academy as it is now pretentiously known is the town sports centre and New Croft,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the San Siro of west Suffolk shared by both Haverhill Rovers and Haverhill Borough football clubs as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza is shared by Inter Milan and AC Milan. But this being England the two Haverhill’s don’t actually play on the same pitch, Rovers play on a grass one on one side of the sports centre and Borough play on a ‘plastic’ 3G pitch at 90 degrees to it.
Parking within staggering distance of the turnstile I stop to admire the club crest which features a spinning wheel, there is also a notice announcing rather ungenerously that there is no free entry after half-time. Disappointed by such stinginess I approach the turnstile. “Oi, there’s another one” a man says to the turnstile operator who is about to desert his post. He’s referring to me, bloody cheek. “Another one”!

Channelling the spirit of Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner I tell him, I’m not just another one (or a number); I don’t think he believes me. Entry costs £6.00 which is pretty standard for the Eastern Counties Premier League and the attractive looking, but 38286394166_3d8c45cd71_oultimately slightly dull programme costs a further £1.00. Boldly, the front cover features a colourised photo of what looks like quite a nasty two-footed tackle by a bearded Haverhill player. Just inside the turnstile to the left is the tea hut; it’s neat and new and its black weather boarding gives the appearance of a traditional ‘shed’, the type ofOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA structure that all non-league grounds should have. Its open door is welcoming and I venture inside and invest in £2.50’s worth of bacon roll and £1.20’s worth of tea, served to me by a pleasant young woman who is appreciative of the change I offer her in payment. As I turn to leave I recognise a group of Ipswich Town supporters sat at a table drinking tea; they are at a loose end because International matches have resulted in a blank weekend for the Town and they have chosen Haverhill to get their weekly football fix.
I eat my bacon roll and drink my tea outside, trying to absorb the pre-match atmosphere; but there isn’t any. There are a lot of Felixstowe supporters here today, probably because their team, who are known as the ‘Seasiders’ are top of the league, some 13 points aheadOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA of the team in second place having won eighteen of the nineteen games they have played. But the Felixstowe fans aren’t a rowdy bunch, although they add a splash of colour with their red and white scarves. I use the toilet facilities, which are round the corner by Haverhill Rovers’ pitch. Returning into the green cage that surrounds the 3G artificial pitch I detect that my hands and fingers smell as if the soap dispensers in the toilet were filled with washing up liquid; odd.

 

It’s almost time for the match to start and a bloke with a radio microphone announces that there will be a minute’s silence before kick-off and he then reads out the teams,

shirt numbers and surnames only. Being Haverhill, the announcer has a London accent and therefore a lot of vowel sounds are absent, but amusingly (for me anyway) it sounds as a result as if the Haverhill number 11 is called Bottom; he is actually called Botten. The Felixstowe left-back is called Stefano Mallardo and I don’t know why, but some strange word association forms in my head and I imagine a man called Arturo Mullardo, who had he been real might have been Benito Mussolini’s favourite comedian.
Respectful silence observed to a background of shouts from a match taking place on a neighbouring pitch, Felixstowe kick off booting towards that academy and the Haverhill Rovers pitch. Felixstowe wear red and white strips with red shorts and from the front their shirts look like Signal toothpaste; Haverhill wear a faded looking all blue kit which has a nasty sheen to it and on the basis of their kit I do not think they will win this afternoon. Less than five minutes into the match and a Haverhill player swings a leg to hoof the ball clear of the penalty area. Nobody laughs, but hilariously he misses the ball completely and instead poleaxes a Felixstowe player stood where the ball should have been. There is not much doubt it is a penalty, although it did look bizarrely accidental, and as a result Felixstowe quickly take the lead as Francis sends the penalty kick past Borough ‘keeper Smith. The Felixstowe supporters, many of whom have gathered on a small terrace which looks like an opened-up metal shoe box, cheer merrily.
Haverhill respond quite well to falling behind so soon and possess the ball all around the Felixstowe penalty area but don’t manage a shot. The Borough goalkeeper makes lots of encouraging noises and urges ‘more urgency’ for some reason; with over 80 minutes still to play I think he’s panicking. Has he never heard the phrase “Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey” I wonder. That’s English football for you though, with its “Get it in the mixer” mentality.
I am intrigued as to why Felixstowe are so far ahead at the top of the league table and search for something special amongst their team. It’s true that they are nearly all quite tall and they look more imposing than the Haverhill team, but their respective kits have something to do with that. Felixstowe certainly have fewer fat players and Borough are notable for having two or three quite portly fellows in their team. I attribute this to diet with Felixstowe probably eating more fish being coastal and Haverhill just eating pie and mash because they are displaced Londoners. One way in which non-league football has the edge over po-faced professionalism is in the variety of shapes and sizes of the players and the fact that a bloke who looks like he has just stepped out of the crowd can be the butt of terrace jokes but then deliver a defence splitting pass or make a perfectly timed sliding tackle. Haverhill’s left-back is such a player as he explains to the wide-man in front of him something about ‘getting there’ and a bloke in the Felixstowe crowd asks “Getting where? The buffet?” How we laugh.
The game has settled down into a combative affair; disappointingly Felixstowe are not spectacular, they don’t tear Haverhill apart with joyous, flowing football but they are the better team and most of the action takes place in the Haverhill half of the plastic “3G” pitch on which clouds of tiny rubber balls are puffed up with every kick and bounce of

the ball. There are clouds in the sky above too, slightly unusual ones and more beautiful than the game. Haverhill’s number four is the first player to be booked by referee Mr Cutmore and there are a number of discussions between referee and players as decisions are questioned and foul play admonished. Some discussions appear quite intimate as referee and players stand very close to one another.
At about twenty five to four Felixstowe score another goal, a corner sees the ball drop in front of Davies and he can’t miss from about four yards out; Haverhill’s players complain that the Seasiders’ goal keeper had bundled one of their players over; Mr Cutmore listens politely but dismisses their pleas without hesitation.
Another ten minutes of physicality pass and it’s half-time. I have edged my way towards the tea hut as the first half ebbs away and am one of the first to get another £1.20’s worth of tea. The air is heavy with smell of chip-frying in the hut so I head back outside where my tea cools nicely as evening begins to envelop the New Croft. I take a look about;

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there are lots of notices attached to the cage that surrounds the 3G pitch; smoking and chewing gum are banned within the confines of the “3G Stadium”, presumably not because of concerns about public health or unsightly, open-mouthed mastication but because of what cigarettes and gum might do to the plastic and rubber. With its plastic pitch, metal stands and fences and little wheels beneath the goals the stadium seems very artificial and temporary, as if after the game it will be folded up and put away in a cupboard inside the sports centre. I smile at a banner that proclaims that the Co-op funeral service proudly sponsors walking football; if I was a walking footballer I think I’d be worried and would be wary of men in black stood on the touchline. The Co-op must think they’re onto a good thing; middle aged blokes on a diet of pie and mash still playing sport, even slowly.
The return of Mr Cutmore and his entourage jolts me from my reverie.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I drain my paper cup and the game begins again, and Haverhill have more of the ball than before, but no more shots on goal than in the first half. Several times Haverhill break away down the left flank, but nothing more than that, and when they do shoot it troubles the high metal fencing more than the Felixstowe goalkeeper. I take up a seat at the back of the metal stand a bit further along from the shoe box. The floodlights are on and reflect off the bald pate of the man sat in front of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAme, fortunately the lenses in my glass are ‘reactalight’. Unusually all the spectator accommodation is on just one side of the ground and it’s not possible to walk all around the pitch, which is a bit disappointing as I can’t stand behind the dugout and listen to the managers cursing and swearing at their players, the linesmen and the referee. Bad language is an essential part of the game despite the Eastern Counties league’s entreaties in the programme to “Keep it down for the kids”. Substitutions take place. On the opposite side of the pitch the linesman is busy. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHis shock of orange hair is quite stunning and matches the autumn colours of the leaves on the trees behind him; as the light fades he almost glows beneath the beams of the floodlights. The other linesman is a slight figure with a thin beard, he looks like he’s feeling the cold and guiltily slips a hand into the pocket of his shorts when play is at the other end of the pitch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The second half is a bit boring. The football isn’t very good. It’s clear Felixstowe have this game won and its only half past four. A Haverhill supporter snipes that the Felixstowe players are from Ipswich, as if being from somewhere 10 miles away is a terrible crime in a local league for local people. A Seasider retorts spikily that the players are from Felixstowe, like the supporters, perhaps implying that most of the population of Haverhill is really from London, but I could be reading too much into that.
Sensing my boredom perhaps, the Seasiders push forward again and a cross from the left results in a shot which is blocked and then from close to the edge of the penalty area the ball is half-volleyed into the corner of the Haverhill goal by the fictional sounding substitute, Kye Ruel. The goal removes all doubt about the final result and ten to five soon arrives when Mr Cutmore blows his whistle to call time. Those from Haverhill leave quietly, whilst the Felixstowe fans wait to applaud their team. I am soon in my car and negotiating rubber speed bumps.

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