Coggeshall Town 2 Felixstowe & Walton United 1


It’s Easter and it is unseasonably warm. The mercury hit 23 degrees in my back garden yesterday and today could be warmer. In holiday mood and beneath a clear blue sky my wife Paulene and I set off in our trusty Citroen C3 on the short journey to Coggeshall to watch Coggeshall Town play Felixstowe & Walton United in the Bostik League, Division One North. We are taking the scenic route today in order to drop off Easter eggs for the grandsons; I feel like the Easter Bunny.

On arrival at their house, their father Colin is slouched watching Tottenham Hotspur on the telly, he responds mono- syllabically to our attempts at conversation. Tottenham are losing, I quietly hope that they continue to do so. Grandson Harvey is as loquacious as his father, but does let Paulene know as economically as possible that it’s the same type of Easter egg we bought him last year.

With Easter eggs delivered we obligingly pop to the Co-op as their advertisements tell us to, so that I can draw some cash and Paulene can buy chocolate of her own; non-dairy chocolate, white vanilla by i-choc; Paulene is dairy intolerant. Leaving the treasures of the Co-op behind us we complete the third leg of our journey, heading along West Street before turning left in to the bouncy car park of what was once known colourfully as ‘The Crops’, but has boringly been re-christened the West
Street Ground; how dull. Our Citroen C3 wishes it was a 2CV. A steward directs me to pull up close “to that one over there” a large Vauxhall. We disembark and a car load of Felixstowe followers park up next to us in another, smaller Vauxhall. At the turnstile I hand over two ten pound notes and receive £3.50 is change (Adult £10, Pensioner £5, programme £1.50). “Enjoy the match” says the turnstile operator “You too” I tell him “If you get to see it”. Oddly, the cost of entry has gone up a pound since I last was here for the FA Cup tie versus Witham in August last year, maybe FA Cup ties are just cheaper

We walk along the concrete path to the clubhouse, looking down upon the pitch on to which water sprinklers gently play. The path along the ‘top of the ground’, behind the main stand is one of the things I like best about “The Crops”. In the clubhouse Tottenham are still on the telly and they’re still losing. To celebrate I order a glass of Rose and a pint of Adnams Ghostship (£7.90 for the two); disappointingly the Ghostship is of the fizzy variety, but at least it’s not Greene King.

Drinks in hands we step back outside and sit at a “Yogi Bear–style picnic table”, I order a sausage roll (£3.50) from the ‘tea-hatch’. £3.50 might seem a lot for a sausage roll but there is more sausage meat in this sausage roll than in all the sausage rolls ever sold by Greggs put together; and this is real sausage meat, not a weird pink paste. I exaggerate perhaps, but not much. In truth, there is perhaps so much sausage meat that I would recommend bringing a small selection of pickles to help it down and add further to your enjoyment.

A steady stream of locals and visiting Felixstowe supporters make their way to the clubhouse from the turnstile and car park beyond, along the concrete path. Eventually I finish my sausage roll and we decide to take shelter from the sun in the shade of the main stand, which the Coggeshall Town website tells us was erected in 1964. We find seats near the middle of the stand at the very back, two seats behind Keith and Jim, who are in the front row and kindly share their team sheets with us.

Keith and Jim went to watch Colchester United play Grimsby Town yesterday; Keith nearly fell asleep he tells us. A friend of Keith and Jim arrives and hands out bars of chocolate, explaining that he won’t be at the game next week.

The teams are announced over one of the clearest sounding PA systems I have ever heard at a football ground and the teams line-up for the ritual shaking of hands; “See, home team on the left, away team on the right” points out Paulene, giving closure to a conversation we had over dinner a few days ago. It’s something I had never noticed, perhaps because I don’t care enough.

Coggeshall kick-off in the direction of the clubhouse and Braintree far beyond, wearing their red and black striped shirts with black shorts and red socks; it’s a fine looking kit. Sartorially however, Felixstowe do their best to match them with an attractive away ensemble of pale blue and white striped shirts with white shorts; if the two-teams swapped shorts and Coggeshall bleached their socks it would look like AC Milan v Argentina. Felixstowe, known as The Seasiders, aim in the direction of the car park and downtown Coggeshall, with its clock tower and the Co-op. Coggeshall, or The Seedgrowers as they are known informally are swift going forward and dominate the early stages.

Felixstowe don’t look much good. The play is rough and the Felixstowe No3, Henry Barley goes down two or three times, much to the disgust of some of the home crowd. “Pussy” shouts one, “Watch him, he doesn’t fancy it anymore” says the man next to me, “It’s a man’s game” calls another. “Erm no, Aussie Rules is a man’s game” says Paulene as a quiet aside, just to me. So far the game has mostly been Coggeshall’s Nnamdi Nwachuku and Michael Gyasi harrying the Felixstowe defence with their speed and nifty footwork. Seventeen minutes pass, Coggeshall piece together a few passes down the right and a cross finds No8 Tevan Allen; he is on his own at the near post. With time on his hands Tevan kicks the ball up in the air and then, as it drops back down to head height, executes a spectacular overhead kick sending it into the far corner of the goal. It is a remarkable goal, even more so if the initial kick up in the air was intended rather than being a case of not quite controlling the ball, but the latter sadly seems more likely. Tevan celebrates appropriately.

With the breakthrough made, Coggeshall will surely go on score more. But no, with the breakthrough made Felixstowe improve and begin to get forward themselves, often on ‘the break’ with their No9, the heftily built Liam Hillyard, a sort of non-league version of former Ipswich Town player Martyn Waghorn, making the runs into the penalty area. The game stagnates a bit as it becomes more even, with neither side playing particuarly well. The referee Mr Karl Sear makes himself unpopular with the home supporters because he doesn’t book any Felixstowe players, only talks to them, whilst also awarding Felixstowe several free-kicks, seemingly for not much at all.

My attention wanders and I admire a rusty hole in the corrugated iron roof of the stand; ventilation is just what’s needed on a warm day like today.
With a fraction more than five minutes until half-time, Liam Hillyard breaks down the right for Felixstowe, he confuses the Coggeshall defenders sufficiently to pass the ball across the penalty area to Henry Barley who looks to have taken the ball too close to goal before booting it high into the net from an acute angle. After the comments made towards him earlier, Henry Barley might allow himself a wry smile (geddit?).

Things look bleak for Coggeshall; having failed to make the most of their advantage they have now lost it. But football as a game apart from being old is nothing if not funny and soon The Seedgrowers win a free kick. The ball is struck hopefully into the penalty area, players jump and the ball hits random body parts, boots are swung in the direction of the moving ball but none makes proper contact, a Felixstowe player sends the ball towards his own goalkeeper, two Felixstowe defenders go to aim a kick but politely leave it to one another; tired and bemused by its long journey across the penalty area the ball gives itself up to a surprised Nnamdi Nwachuku who happily scores a close-range goal as ropey as the Seedgrowers’ first goal was spectacular. The goal is greeted almost with jeers and laughter, but it still counts and it makes Nnamdi and this little corner of Coggeshall very happy.
Half-time soon follows and we leave our seats; Paulene to use the facilities, me to take our coats back to the car, we really won’t need them today. “Are you leaving?” asks Keith. I reassure him that
I’ll be back for the second half.

Returning from the Citroen I meet my next door neighbour Paul and his eldest son Matthew on the concrete path as they head to the car park end that Coggeshall will be attacking in the second half. Paul has captured the glory of Coggeshall’s second goal on his mobile phone, I think the best bit is where the two Felixstowe defenders let each other boot the ball and neither does. On the grass bank below the concrete path is Colin with his wife Tessa and grandson Harvey and Paulene; I join them in the sunshine and eat a coconut based flapjack that I bought at the Co-op and on which the chocolate has melted. I get just four out of ten in the “Seedgrowers’ half-time quiz” in the programme; how is any one supposed to know that Jamie Carragher has the middle names Lee and Duncan? The second half begins.

The expectation amongst those around me is that Coggeshall will score a third goal, but it doesn’t happen. The game becomes niggly and fractious with lots of swear words; Coggeshall Town is the place to come for sweary football. I kick back and stretch out on the grass enjoying the warmth of the Spring sunshine and the stillness of the afternoon, the peacefulness only punctuated by angry curses from players and supporters and frantic scribbling in his notebook by referee Mr Sear who books six players, three from each team including both Coggeshall goalscorers. Some decent chances to score are missed by both teams and Felixstowe perhaps have the best ones, but if you’d never been to a football match before and had come along because you’d heard about “the beautiful game”, you’d think Pele was a liar. The final act sees Felixstowe’s Callum Bennet sent off by Mr Sears for a poorly thought-out tackle, although conveniently for Bennett he didn’t have far to go because he committed the foul quite close to the corner of the field and the steps to the changing room; so it wasn’t all bad.

With the final whistle I reflect upon what has been a beautiful afternoon in the sun before we head back to the clubhouse for another drink; it’s that kind of a day. I look out for Jim and Keith as the ground empties but don’t see them, I worry that Keith thinks I didn’t return for the second half, which would make me no better than Pele.

Leiston 0 Rushall Olympic 1

Leiston is about 35 kilometres northeast of Ipswich and when my mother was a child she was taken there on the train to visit her grandfather who lived in nearby Aldringham. Remarkably perhaps, for a town of just five and half thousand inhabitants tucked away in a corner of rural Suffolk it is still possible to get to Leiston by rail today, but only if you’re the engine driver of the train collecting radioactive waste from Sizewell nuclear power station, a few kilometres east. Passenger services to Leiston ceased in 1966; the evil Dr Beeching saw to that, but on a Saturday afternoon the No 521 bus leaves Saxmundham railway station at 14:04, about ten minutes after the 13:17 train from Ipswich arrives there and it will get you to Leiston in time for a three o’clock kick-off at Victory Road, home of Leiston FC. Incredibly, there is also a bus back from Leiston to Saxmundham, at 1740. But with meticulous mis-timing however, the bus arrives in Sax’ three minutes after the 17:57 train back to Ipswich has left, giving you a fifty seven minute wait for the next one.
My excuse for not using public transport today is not because we are apparently being discouraged by poor timetabling from doing so, but rather because what goes around comes around and it’s now my mother’s turn to be visited, by me. Filial duty carried out, I proceed up the A12 on what is a beautiful, bright autumn afternoon. Letting the throttle out on the largely deserted dual carriageway between Ufford and Marlesford my Citroen C3 must feel like its back on the péage heading for Lyon, not Leiston. But Leiston it is and after skirting Snape and Friston, and passing pigs and pill-boxes outside Knodishall my Leiston FCCitroen and I roll into Victory Road at about twenty past two, where it is already so busy we are ushered into overflow car parking. I drive across the grass behind one goal and onto a field behind the pitch. Once out of my car a steward explains that entry today is through a side gate in order to keep pedestrians from slipping over where the cars have churned up the grass; health and safety eh? Entry costs £11, but I keep the gateman happy by tendering the right money. My wife Paulene has refused to join me today because she maintains that £11 is too much to pay to watch ‘local football’, and she makes a fair point, although today’s opponents aren’t exactly local, Rushall being about 285 kilometres away near Walsall in the West Midlands. In France it is possible to watch a fully professional second division match in a modern stadium for not much more than I have paid today, and sometimes for a bit less.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There is plenty of time before kick-off so I have a look about and visit the club shop where I witness its first ever ‘card transaction’. The middle-aged lady serving seems genuinely excited and I suggest she should be giving her customer some sort of commemorative certificate to mark the occasion. Sadly, I cannot lay claim to becoming the second ever card-paying customer of the Leiston club shop, as I all too easily resist the temptation of a teddy bear (£12), mug (£5) or red, white and blue painted football rattle (£2), although I do try the rattle to see if it works; it does but it’s quite small and the action is a bit stiff. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leaving the shop I realise I don’t have a programme and I see if there is one available at the main turnstile, where a very apologetic man explains that due to printing costs and not selling all the programmes it’s no longer financially viable to produce one; he hands me a slip of paper which puts his words into print. I quite like the idea that the slip of paper could be distributed as a substitute programme if it was stamped with today’s date and name of the opposition.
Programme-less and therefore slightly crestfallen, I turn back from the turnstile but must wait as a steward ushers past a car towards the overflow car park, I tell the steward he needs a lollipop-man’s uniform or at least his lollipop, he doesn’t seem that keen. Still depressed at the state of modern football I head for the bar where a hand pump bears pump clips for both Adnam’s Ghostship and something called Garrett’s Ale. When I ask, the balding barman explains that Garrett’s is made in a micro-brewery down the road in the Long Shop museum, but then he says it’s not and he made it up. He says it’s brewed by Greene King, and he made the name up and then he says it’s actually Ruddle’s. Confused, I buy a pint (£3.20); it’s okay, but I wish I’d bought a pint of Ghostship.
I find a spot to drink my beer and speak briefly to a man who recognises me from matches at Portman Road; he is apparently originally from Aldeburgh and today is a guest of the match sponsors. Having drained my glass I head back outside to await the teams and in due course they emerge from a concertinaed tunnel, which is wheeled across the concourse from the side of the red-brick clubhouse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Victory Road is not really an attractive or interesting ground; the clubhouse looks like a massive Council bungalow, there is a small metal terrace stand at one end and opposite the bungalow a row of low metal prefabricated stands join together to create the Leiston Press Stand, in the middle of which sits a large glazed press box. Between the clubhouse and the main turnstile is a ten or fifteen metre terrace which misleadingly looks like a good place to wait for a bus. The setting is altogether a little dull.

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The two teams’ arrival on the pitch brightens things up a bit however, with Leiston all in blue and Rushall Olympic in black and yellow stripes with black shorts and socks, although from behind they’re kit is all-black, so they look like numbered referees. To make matters worse the referee Mr Hancock is also wearing all black, the first of a number of poor decisions he will make this afternoon.
With the multiple handshaking malarkey out of the way, Rushall kick-off in the direction of Aldringham and the metal terrace, the front of which is adorned appropriately with a large advert that reads Screwbolt Fixings. The early stages of the game are rough and shouty with plenty of strength and running on show but not the necessary guile to score a goal. It’s entertaining enough, but is more like all-in wrestling than the working man’s ballet. I stand behind the goal close to four blokes in their sixties; one wears a deerstalker, another wears a ‘Vote Leave’ badge and swears a lot whilst complaining that people don’t know how lucky they are that a little club like Leiston is playing at such a high level, and he’s right because he can’t be wrong about everything. A Rushall player sends a shot high over the cross bar and off towards Aldringham. Everybody jeers, “Three points to Wigan” shouts a grey-haired man.
The game is a struggle, Leiston are having the better of it but neither goalkeeper is exactly rushed off their feet with save-making. The wannabe coaches in the crowd offer their advice “Simple balls man, simple” calls one as the ball is lofted forward hopefully. “Keep it on the deck” shouts another. “Go on Seb” shouts someone else, taking a more OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAone to one approach. As half time nears I head back round towards the giant bungalow so that I can be handily placed for the tea bar when the whistle blows. As I watch on from behind the Leiston bench their number two Matt Rutterford commits a fairly innocuous foul, sidling up behind a Rushall player. Sadly for Leiston, Mr Hancock doesn’t consider that the foul is that innocuous and proceeds to whip out his yellow card in the direction of the unfortunate full-back, who having already seen the card once earlier in the game gets to see Mr Hancock’s red card also. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues and there is a strong feeling that Leiston cannot now possibly win and Mr Hancock has ruined the game more than a few fouls ever could.
As the sun sinks towards the horizon everyone on the bungalow side of the ground has

to shield their eyes. Half-time can’t come soon enough. “How long to go lino?” asks the Rushall manager as the clock ticks past ten to four. “How long would you like?” says a voice from the crowd. With the half-time whistle I go indoors for a pounds worth of tea. Behind me in the queue is a man with white flowing hair and small beard, he looks like Buffalo Bill, but is wearing an Ipswich Town branded coat. “Don’t I know you from Portman Road or from a holiday in Majorca?” asks another man of Bill. “No I don’t think so, I haven’t been on holiday since I was thirty” says Bill. I tell him that his coat is a bit of a giveaway that he might have been to Portman Road. Tea in hand I seek the fresh air outside, and it is fresh. There has been a stingy east wind all afternoon and with the sun going down it’s getting even colder. Happily my tea is warm, but it’s also a bit weak and I suspect Leiston FC are cutting costs on tea bags as well as programmes, but I’m not surprised given the distances they have to travel to games in this very silly league, which stretches from Lowestoft in the east to Stourbridge in the west, a distance of over 330 kilometres.
At six minutes past four Mr Hancock begins the second half and the Screwbolt Fixings terrace is now occupied by about a dozen men, half of whom unexpectedly begin to sing. They go through a variety of chants and tunes including ‘Tom Hark’ and also Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’, betraying that they too may have been to Portman Road. What I like best about the Screwbolt choir is that they are all over forty and half of them are probably over fifty, something they confirm later when substitute Harry Knights comes on and they break into a chorus of Sham 69’s ‘Hurry Up Harry’.
Over by the main stand is a line of Rushall supporters some of whom sport black and gold scarves, like Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters on a day off. I sit for a while at the front of the stand. A Rushall shot hits the cross-bar at the Theberton end of the ground. Mr Hancock makes another dubious decision. “This referee’s from another planet” says a thick West Midland’s accent. Behind us the sky glows a violent red, but nobody panics because Sizewell nuclear power station is in the opposite direction. A man in the stand shouts “Come on Leiston” very enthusiastically; he’s the reporter from BBC Radio Suffolk. A Rushall player goes down “Get up you worm” shouts someone else, not very charitably.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs darkness shrouds the ground it loses its plainness and takes on a new atmosphere. The long shadows have gone to be replaced by the glow of the floodlights. On the pitch Rushall push forward and Leiston defend; their goalkeeper Marcus Garnham makes a couple of smart saves. Leiston try to catch Rushall on the break with quick, astute passes and diagonal punts but it doesn’t feel as though Leiston or their supporters expect to win, and holding on for the goalless draw will be victory enough, of a sort. The story is a simple one; Leiston must keep Rushall at bay. But there have been injuries and delays and time added on at the end seems interminable. It’s the ninety fifth minute and Marcus Garnham makes a spectacular reaction save, followed quickly by another but before we have time to applaud the ball runs to Rushall substitute Keiron Berry stood just three yards from the open goal, a prod is all that’s needed.
Back behind the goal the Leiston supporter who owns the flag that hangs over theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA pitchside rail says he’s “had it” with the referee and he’s going home, he starts to untie his flag. Another group of young lads head off too. “Fucking Toby’s fault” says a lad with long curly hair like Marc Bolan “it’s the same every time we come here with him”. The despondent occupants of the Screwbolt Fixings stand shuffle off with Mr Hancock’s final whistle whilst jeering at the Rushall goalkeeper Joseph Slinn, “Cheats” they shout, rather un-sportingly. In return the ‘keeper tells them how much he enjoyed their Neil Diamond song, but such is their disappointment they’re not listening and he was only trying to be friendly.
I head back to my Citroen C3 and catch a glimpse of the Rushall players enjoying a post-match cuddle through the side gate. The result leaves Leiston in fourth place in the Evo-stik Central Premier League, five points behind Kettering Town who are top and six-points ahead of Rushall Olympic. The last time I came to watch Leiston, they lost 3-1 to Gloucester in the FA Cup, I begin to wonder if I’m not a bit like Toby.

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Framlingham Town 2 Norwich United 0

On a Saturday afternoon the number 118 bus leaves Ipswich at a quarter to two and arrives outside the former White Horse pub in Framlingham about forty-five minutes later, from where according to Google maps it is a thirteen minute walk up Bridge Street and Market Hill, along Church Street, Castle Street and up Badingham Road to the Badingham Road Sports ground, home of Framlingham Town Football Club. The only problem with this if wanting to watch a football match is that it is necessary to leave at half-time to catch the last bus back to Ipswich at a quarter past four. There are two later buses out of Framlingham, but they will only get you as far as Framsden. With passenger rail services to Fram’ having ceased in 1952, and deciding that unless sleeping in a hedge, stopping over for the weekend in Framsden or Framlingham (the next bus to Ipswich is on Monday morning) is a tad extravagant just to watch a Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League game, I have no option today but to get a bigger shoe for my carbon footprint and travel by car.
Even for someone wracked with guilt over his Citroen C3’s carbon emissions, having turned off the A12 it’s a pleasant drive along the B1116, which follows the valley of the River Ore through Hacheston and Parham. Tilled brown fields, grey flints, golden leaves and gaunt trees beneath a broad, bright sky set the scene for our winding, undulating journey. It’s all a bit ‘Akenfield’ out here. In Framlingham I park up near the 12th century castle and we, for today I am with my wife Paulene, pop to the Co-op for a small picnic; we would eat at the football club, but Paulene’s food intolerances won’t allow it. We stop off at the church of St Michael on the way back to the car to look at the display of knitted poppies draped over the south porch for Remembrance day tomorrow and take a look inside at the tombs of the ancient Howard family, feudal lords of the area after Sir Roger; appropriately the local Conservative Club is just over the road too.44933944875_965acaf762_z
It’s a very short drive from Sir Roger Bigod’s castle to Framlingham Sports Club on Badingham Road; like Stowmarket Town , Walsham le Willows and Brantham Athletic, Framlingham Town Football Club is now a part of the local sports club. Back in the 12th century Sir Roger was probably more of a hunting man than a footballer though. The roughly surfaced car park is pretty full, but we find a space and head into the club house for a drink, where we encounter what appears to be a ladies’ sports team all sat down in green trackie-tops having their dinner, and the shutters on the bar are down. Making an about turn we head around the corner to the turnstile entrance to the football ground , a nicely painted and brightly lit walk-through shed. Inside the shed a jolly man with a proper Suffolk accent relieves me of the admission fee (£8 each), which by at least a pound is the most I have ever paid to see an Eastern Counties League game and therefore seems a bit steep; I don’t think I paid more than a fiver when I last came to a match here about eighteen months ago. Financially bruised as I am, it doesn’t deter me however from splashing out on a programme (£1) too. On some days money means nothing to me. The man in the shed tells us that we can get beer or wine at the tea bar now, so the bar only opens later, I then have to remind him that I’ve paid for a programme too and he hands one over.
We walk the few yards to the main stand, briefly stopping to exchange pleasantries with a contented looking lady sat on a chair, basking in the low autumn sun. She always sits here she tells us. The tea bar is in the middle of the small brick stand at the back of the three rows of neat green seats. We both have a tea (£1), I have milk, Paulene doesn’t due to dairy intolerance; coincidentally she’s a bit scared of cows too. Paulene selects a seat in the corner of the stand; it will no doubt get colder later and this looks like a spot that will offer the closest approximation to ‘cosy’ once the sun has gone down. We drink our tea and eat our picnic, which mostly consists of Suffolk ham and crisps; we watch the officials warm up, which is always entertaining. Today’s threesome look refreshinglyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA young and unusually trendy; one has a beard, one sports what may be designer stubble whilst the third has one of those tied-up, top-knot haircuts with two partings. I always thought the Football Association had their own barbers who tried to make all referees look like Action Man, but it seems not. They’ll have to keep an eye on the fella with the top-knot; seems a bit of a individualist.
It’s still only about half past two, so like the spend thrift that I am I return to the tea bar for a bottle of Adnam’s Ghostship (£3) to wash down the salty picnic. The lady who serves me pours the beer expertly whilst explaining how it tends to froth up in plastic glasses. I tell her I think she deserves some sort of drum roll as she pours, but hold back with a round of applause when it’s done. Beer in hand I take a stroll round the pitch and wait for the teams to emerge from the dressing room behind the stand. Eventually, to the strains of Nancy Sinatra’s “These boots were made for walking”, an unusual but impressive choice, the teams walk on to the pitch led by the referee Mr Jack Willmore and his assistants Jack Lock and the somewhat theatrical sounding Ayrton Hursey; if I had to make a guess I’d say Ayrton is the one with ‘the hair’.
The ritual handshaking occurs and the teams chase off to their respective halves of the pitch. The Framlingham players then line the centre circle and because it is Remembrance Day tomorrow the Last Post is played over the PA system, but no one seems to have told Norwich United and they ‘knock up’ as usual, as footballers do. Sadly it’s a bit shambolic and had it been filmed would surely make the cut for a possible Channel 5 documentary series entitled “When poignant ceremonies goes wrong”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the Last Post over, it’s time for the minute’s silence, which happily is well observed by everyone and I suspect we all feel much better for it. For future reference, the Last Post should probably follow the silence.
It’s Norwich United, nickname The Planters, who kick-off the match in the direction of Rendham wearing a change kit of red shirts with white sleeves, red shorts and socks whilst Fram’, known informally as ‘The Castlemen’ wear green and white hooped shirts with white shorts and socks. Fram’ play in the direction of the town and the castle, of which one of the decorated Tudor chimneys is just visible from the Rendham end of the ground. The game begins quietly with Fram’ playing neatly and Norwich occasionally bursting forward, but neither side is very effective close to the opposition goal with the important forward passes often being over-hit or too easily intercepted; but it’s nice enough to watch all the same.
The sun sinks ever lower through a wreath of cloud as the half progresses and with the main stand and facilities on the north side of the pitch, most of the sixty-three strong crowd spend a lot of time squinting and holding their hands up to their foreheads as if looking out to sea. Spectators stood by the pitch-side rail cast long shadows behind them on to the metal boundary fence. I stand for a while by the team dugouts on the shaded side of the pitch where it feels rather cold and damp. Behind me is what looks like a small, dilapidated cricket pavilion and rather bizarrely, next to that is what appears to be a boarded up Council house.

The game is being played in a good spirit and although the players whinge and whine about perceived unpunished fouls and faux free-kicks there seems to be a realisation that it’s only a game; a fact that quiet reflection during the minute’s silence should have confirmed beyond all doubt. When Mr Willmore doesn’t give handball as the ball strikes the upper arm of Norwich’s full-back Adam Probert, Fram’s number seven Simon Poacher grasps his head with both hands in over-affected disbelief. Probert laughs, although it’s not clear if he’s laughing at having got away with a handball or at Poacher’s ham-handed histrionics. There are corners and crosses and misses of a sort, but it takes until the fortieth minute for either team to have a really decent looking attempt on goal when Fram’s Max Willet lands a long range shot on the roof of the Norwich goal just as the floodlights come on; a moment of double illumination. When Fram’s number five Anthony Johnson then unnecessarily concedes a corner his goalkeeper Gary Rose can be heard to say frustratedly “I told him to leave it, I told him”. But the corner comes to nothing, so no harm done.
Half-time and the seeping chill of the late autumn afternoon demands another pound’s worth of tea from the tea-bar. The result of the 50-50 draw is announced and it is revealed that the winner is the club chairman. “Money goes to money” says a man next to me in the queue at the tea bar. But the chairman seems down to earth enough, he’s stood in the tea bar and he’s not dressed up in a suit like the Norwich contingent. Teas purchased, Paulene and I huddle in the corner of the stand, the side screen of which, somewhat peculiarly, is double-glazed, which seems a little unnecessary given that it is a necessary feature of all stands that one side is left completely open. I have a flick through the programme. It’s a colourful and glossy little publication, short of text but sporting the best advert I have seen in a programme for some time – “AFS for Your Fumigation Requirements” it reads; I will be sure to give them a call for my next pre-harvest grainstore treatments. There is also an advert for agricultural trailers and, more prosaically, for Framlingham Pizza and Grill, which shows a colourful array of pizzas and fast foods against a back drop of the castle, as if the two are somehow intrinsically linked. Genuinely, I never cease to be impressed by the support of local businesses for their local team, even if they do make me laugh a bit too; all power to their advertising elbows.
At three fifty-six Mr Willmore blows his whistle to begin the second half. Within a short space of time Fram’s number nine Danny Smith runs down the right, crosses the ball and it strikes the arm or hand of the Norwich number six and captain Andy Eastaugh. Mr Willmore awards a penalty. There is a bit of a delay as we wait for the inevitable arguments from the Norwich players to subside. A seasoned Suffolk voice to my left says “If I was the ref that ruddy goalkeeper woulda gone by now”. When the penalty is finally taken, Simon Poacher scores; a rustic cheer erupts from the main stand to which I add my voice. I can’t remain impartial when it’s Suffolk versus a Norwich team, although in truth Norwich United aren’t from Norwich at all, but from Blofield five miles away, as is Poringland where the club began in 1903 as Poringland and District, a name which sounds more like a bus company than a football club.
The game needed a goal and given the first half display a penalty seemed the only way it was likely to happen. Fram’ hadn’t really pushed enough players forward in the first half, but now they are looking strong down the right wing where number eleven Max Willet is getting plenty of the ball; he puts in a couple of crosses but there is no one to get on the end of them. Fram’s number ten comes close however as he twist and turns and shoots forcing the purple clad Norwich goalkeeper Luke Pearson to make the first proper save of the match as he tips the ball over the cross-bar.
Play goes on and darkness descends and I inexplicably notice how many of the players have severe haircuts and resemble those of army conscripts from World War One. TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Norwich number four Sam Applegate would seem to have a particularly vicious barber who has given Sam a haircut which makes him look as if he is wearing a skull cap. Fram’s number six James Mayhew becomes the first player to be booked by Mr Willmore. The excitement increases as Fram’ look for a second goal, but also look to hang on to their lead. “Go on Fram’”, “Go on, close ‘em down” “Come on Fram’, play football” are the calls of advice from the main stand.
Norwich have an attack and win a corner. “When was the last time we scored from a corner?” says a Norfolk accent. There’s a slight pause before the terse reply “Last week wasn’t it?” From the corner a Norwich header hits the Fram’ goalkeeper or someone on the goal line provoking predictable calls of handball, but nobody seems very convinced, least of all Mr Willmore.
45815355781_1b8fc59db8_oAt just before twenty five past four Max Willets chases off down the right for Fram’ once again. He gets into the penalty area, checks, changes pace and gains half a yard on the full-back before crossing the ball and Jake Seaber, whose name doesn’t even appear in the programme, scores a simple tap-in at the far post. The cheer for the second goal is even bigger than for the first and I once again join in; witnessing a Suffolk team called Town score a second goal against a team from Norwich is something I’ve not done in quite a while. Up the Towun!
I wander off around the other side of the ground again to enjoy the final quarter of the game. Under the floodlights the colours of the two teams comes alive and so does the match, but not in a good way. Norwich have applied some pressure without success, but have also had to defend and evidently not to the standard their goalkeeper Luke Pearson expects and he suddenly throws a tantrum, stomping stiff-legged from his goal and bawling incomprehensibly. A short while later there is a fracas near the centre of the pitch, I have no clue what has happened but Fram’s Simon Poacher staggers from a melee looking like he’s been punched in the stomach. A Norwich player is booked and the Fram’ coaches tell the linesman he knows what he saw; something to do with Norwich number five Sam Watts throwing a punch. Mr Willmore consults his assistant with the haircut and Watts is shown the red card; after a short argument he accepts his fate and returns to the dressing room. There’s not long left now, especially as the referee seems keen to finish the game as quickly as he can and within a few minutes as Fram’ goalkeeper launches a kick Mr Willmore calls time.
The crowd of mostly middle-aged and older men are appreciative of what they’ve seen this afternoon. Although Fram’ remain second from bottom in the twenty team Eastern Counties Premier League they’ve beaten a team who were ten places above them and only last season were two divisions above them. For my part it’s been a fun afternoon of goals, beer, medieval architecture and a sending off, I couldn’t ask for more.

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Coggeshall Town 0 Witham Town 0

It’s a Friday evening in late August and in Coggeshall history is being made as the local football club, established in October 1878, will play its first ever FA Cup tie after almost 140 years of non-involvement in what used to be, until the Premier League ruined everything, England’s most thrilling and most-loved football competition.
It’s been a blustery day, but the afternoon has been quite warm. My wife Paulene and I have had our tea early (bangers and mash) and are making the short drive to Coggeshall; a large crowd is predicted tonight for what is a local ‘derby’ against Witham Town, so we thought we would get in early, park up and have a drink before the rush. Driving along West Street towards ‘The Crops’ we follow a large Audi car with the registration M1 LTS, the personalised number plate of former Ipswich Town player Simon Milton; I wonder to myself if footballers are more likely to have personalised number plates than ‘normal’ people. I think perhaps they are. As we follow I tell Paulene about how hack sportswriter Dave Allard would nearly always refer to Simon Milton in the back pages of the Ipswich Evening Star as “… the former paint sprayer and van driver from Thetford”. Paulene thinks this was rather rude of him. The Audi brakes suddenly as it reaches the turning into the Coggeshall Town car park; “Milts” is evidently not a regular at the Crops. We turn in after him and wait whilst he backs his transport into a space close to the entrance.
There are a good number of cars here already but there is no queue at the turnstile and we soon pay our entrance money (£9 each) and buy a programme (£1.50). At the bar I order a pint of Adnams Ghostship (sadly keg and not real ale) for me and a Campari and soda for Paulene. “A what?” says the young woman behind the bar .
“Campari and soda” I reply.
“What’s that?” She asks.
“It’s Campari topped up with soda”
“What, like lime and soda?”
“Yes, but with Campari instead of the lime, but still with the soda”
“I don’t know if we’ve got that”
“Yes, you have, the Campari is on the top shelf”. The barmaid turns to look at the shelves behind the bar. “Which one is it?”
“The bottle in the middle with the word ‘Campari’ on it”. Paulene is served her Campari and soda (£7.70 with the pint of Ghostship) and explains to the woman stood next to her (who had asked) how she cannot have grain-based drinks due to a food intolerance and so has to stick to wine-based ones like Campari, Martini and Noilly Prat. The woman’s husband tells me how he has a bottle of Campari in a cupboard at home, but has never opened it. Plastic cups of drink in hand we stand outside on the deck and watch what’s occurring whilst playing “Spot the Groundhopper”. We speak with ‘Migz’ who we know from his having played at Wivenhoe Town; he has just joined Witham, his younger brother Tristan plays for Ipswich Town. It’s rather lovely sat out here, with the neat, well-tended pitch before us and the grey leaves of the riverside trees beyond the fields behind the ground blowing in the breeze. But it’s getting a bit chilly and I put my coat on. On the pitch the Coggeshall coach is interviewed in front of a video camera, apparently BT will be showing the match in a highlights programme. Good luck with finding it on BT’s poorly advertised schedules.


Drinks drunk we move to the low seated stand at the side of the pitch and pick a spot at the back, in the middle, saving a seat for Paul who normally videos the match but has given over his gantry to BT tonight.

The BT people said they will let him have a copy of their recording, which is nice of them and much better than the service you get as one of their paying subscribers. The ground is filling up; a large man in front of says to his wife “The barbecue is up and burning, do you want anyfink?” He leaves and returns with burgers and paper napkins; the burgers don’t look burnt despite what he said. The referee and his assistants warm up in front of us, the referee who has scrupulously short hair setting out a series of flattened cones to run between, although he begins by running with his chums to the goal line and back. I thought I saw one of his assistant smirk as the cones were laid out, but it might have been me. They don’t really need these flattened cone things, perhaps they were a Christmas present and he feels obliged to use them or may be just setting them all out and picking them up again is part of the warm up.


The light is fading as cloud builds and the floodlights come on before kick-off. Barbecuedsc00074_30406466408_o smoke drifts in to the air and teases our nostrils as Witham Town in yellow shirts and blue shorts have first kick at the ball playing towards the town, with its fabulous medieval tithe barn and Tudor, double jettied, Paycocke’s house. Coggeshall sport their usual black and red striped shirts with black shorts and socks.
An early free-kick to Coggeshall and their number six and captain Luke Wilson heads the ball over the goal. The game is fast and frantic. “Well in son” shouts a shiny headed man standing near to us and then “Well up son” to another player, showing a touching fatherliness towards the Coggeshall team. At the open end of the ground a lone voice bellows “You’re supposed to be at home” single-handedly trying to create the big match, local derby, cup-tie atmosphere that I hope for at every game.
After just six minutes the Coggeshall captain is substituted due to injury and then there is a flash. I thought the floodlights flickered, but the rumble of thunder that follows

confirms that it was lightning. If the crowd isn’t creating much of a ‘cup-tie’ atmosphere the weather seems to be making an effort and soon it begins to rain. Coggeshall win the first corner of the match as a swarm of raindrops swirl within the beam of the floodlights above. The referee speaks with Witham’s number eleven and two grumpy looking men in suits and ties enter the stand to shelter from the rain, they are wearing dsc00089_30406410328_ohuge black coats plastered with the logos of Mitre and Bostik, they must be League or FA officials. It’s another thing I love about non-league football; officials all dressed up and made to sit in a tin shack. Perhaps that’s why they look so grumpy, but at least they’ll get free sandwiches at half-time.
It’s not quite a quarter past eight and Witham’s number three claims the first booking of the evening for acting the playground bully as he unsubtly shoves a Coggeshall player in the back. I’d like to say that he stares wild-eyed up through the rain at the yellow card as it is illuminated by a flash of lightning, but it didn’t really happen like that. The rain gets harder and a dark bank of cloud forms the back drop to the floodlit pitch, which sparkles with rain drops. The thunder and lightning passes over, it’s nearly twenty past eight and Witham win their first corner with what could be their first attempt on goal. Coggeshall have been dominating this game but without troubling the Witham goalkeeper who has a stockade of four big blokes in front of him who block every way through to goal. Coggeshall are nimble and quick but small and Witham are big and solid. A hoofed clearance disappears above the roof line of the stand and I wait for it to fall like someone in 1944 who has just heard a doodlebug engine cut out. After a silent pause the ball noisily clatters the corrugated iron above us. There’s time for Coggeshall to win another corner, which is cleared and then it’s half time.
It’s still raining so we stay where we are, a cup of tea might be in order usually, but there are over 300 people here tonight (309 to be precise) and I don’t want to queue in the rain. I flick through the programme and Paul leaves and returns with a burger. The large man at the front of the stand goes to get a burger, but returns empty-handed, put off by the queue.
The second half brings the football back and Witham’s number ten is soon cautioned for a tackle which the shiny headed man says was two-footed. From the resultant free-kick, Coggeshall’s number ten Ross Wall (a moniker which I randomly notice combines the names of two frozen food manufacturers) sends a flying header goal-wards, but the Witham goalkeeper is equally air worthy and hurls himself to his right to push the ball onto the post and away, drawing excited but frustrated “Ooooohs” from the crowd, including me.
It’s still raining as Coggeshall’s number ten is booked, seemingly because several Witham players surrounded the referee appealing for his censure. But Coggeshall remain the better team, or at least the more attack-minded and entertaining team and soon a throw on the right reaches number seven who turns smartly to send in a rising shot, which the Witham ‘keeper again touches on to the cross bar in spectacular fashion. An hour of the game has passed and another Coggeshall player, number fourteen is booked for sliding into an opponent across the wet turf.
dsc00069_43555980904_oThe game remains physical and frantic and wet. A free-kick for Coggeshall almost sneaks under the cross bar and a corner is won after number eleven Nnamdi Nwachuk produces some nifty footwork and tries several times to tee up a shot on his right foot. Coggeshall’s number fifteen replaces number seven and Witham’s number four joins those already booked by the very neat Mr Michael Robertson – Tant the referee. It’s been a game of several free-kicks and much falling over and a special prize should go to Witham number nine, a huge man who several times falls to the ground heavily and lies perfectly still as if mortally wounded. He has clearly learned from watching the World Cup that rolling over and over and over is not convincing; he is the anti-Neymar and amusing with it.
Nnamdi Nwachuk stays down on the turf “Get up , we need you” bawls a team mate. A Witham player goes down and seeks attention “Come on ref, he’s a pansy” shouts the shiny headed man. Coggeshall win more corners, the ball is cleared, is headed over and Nwachuk’s shot is deflected away as everyone struggles to control it on the greasy, wet grass. Nwachuk cannot carry on and is replaced by number eighteen. Witham’s number four is replaced by number fourteen, a curly haired, bearded man who looks like a history teacher who taught me back in 1976. Frustration grows but the pattern of the game doesn’t , Coggeshall press and Witham hold out. The shiny headed man develops a rising, piercing falsetto voice as Witham’s nine fails to get booked “Why doesn’t he book him? He’s taking the piss. It’s ridiculous”. Moments later nine is booked for childishly withholding the ball before a Coggeshall free-kick. The shiny-headed man is apoplectic and with the game ebbing away he turns to religion. “Jesus Christ!” he spits as a searching through ball is played much too long and rolls harmlessly off the pitch. The good word spreads to the woman next to me who on being told there wouldn’t be extra-time if the game is drawn says “Thank God, I don’t think I could take it”.
Entering time added on, the Witham players have taken to complaining heavily when fouled; they earn a free kick which is cleared to the edge of the penalty area where the history teacher clubs it on the volley just past the Coggeshall ‘keeper’s right hand post. It’s the last notable action of the game. The rain has stopped and the smell of cooking meat returns as a pall of barbecue smoke hangs over the pitch. After four minutes of added time it’s all over and we emerge from our shelter into the damp night to say our goodbyes. It’s disappointing not to have seen any goals and ultimately effort and strength have beaten skill but the thunder, lightning and lashing rain beneath the floodlights have made it a memorable evening.

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Woodbridge Town 2 Clapton 2

Today is the day of my favourite round of the FA Cup. Whilst supporters of professional clubs may enjoy the third round when the ‘big’ clubs deign to take part, or the first round when the not quite so big clubs join in, I love the very first day. For a start, it is still summer and the days remain long and warm, but what I love about it more is not that any particular clubs take part, or even that it is the beginning, what I like is its name, the extra-preliminary round. Before the first round there are four qualifying rounds; before the first one of those there is a preliminary round, but the FA clearly don’t think that goes far enough and rather than have six qualifying rounds, they decide to have both a preliminary round and an extra-preliminary round. This seems to me to embody the FA’s attitude to grass roots football clubs as a bit of a nuisance that must be culled before the competition can begin properly. This is the FA ‘putting it’ to these little clubs that they are nothing. It’s no wonder that only 800 odd clubs enter the FA Cup, the FA would never cope with what happens in France where over 7,000 clubs enter their equivalent competition, the Coupe de France, but then, France is a republic.
Today I am travelling to Woodbridge by train (£3.15 return from Ipswich with a Goldcard) to watch Woodbridge Town, newly promoted to the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League, play Clapton of the Essex Senior league, a club with a distinguished history and where the fabled Walter Tull began his football career. On the first part of my journey to Ipswich I sit next to two women discussing a man called Amos and what he does when he is in Uganda. When I change trains I sit at a table where a girl in red socks and white T-shirt is quick to tell me that she is innocent of having made the neat arrangement of two empty Lucozade bottles and three crisp packets that sit on the table. I tell her it’s okay, I will avert my gaze and look out of the window. British Transport police are looking for an obese person with OCD who is recovering from illness. Two West Bromwich Albion supporters on their way to Norwich sit across the gangway from me, we chat a little and I wish them luck, telling them that I am expecting at least four or five goals from their team; pleasingly they will oblige. I also recoil from the hideous sight of a tall, well-spoken young man in a Norwich City shirt; he has ‘Cooper’ ‘21’ on his shirt back; his name and IQ I surmise, or possibly the number of members of his family with whom he has had a sexual relationship.
The three carriage 13:18 to Lowestoft leaves Ipswich on time and slowly roars its way through marshalling yards and past Hadleigh Road industrial estate with its mighty disused gas holder that sits in a nest of buddleia. Beyond the River Gipping the view of Ipswich from the bridges over Bramford Lane and Norwich Road is a joy with its cluster of modernist blocks and the floodlights of Portman Road looming up beyond low streets of red roofs, which haven’t changed much in eighty years, in many cases much longer. This is a lovely train journey, albeit a noisy one thanks to the diesel engine and old-fashioned clickety-clack of the rails. The train arrives at 13:32 and Woodbridge seems busy; a group of women, all teetering heels, tanned legs, tight dresses, make-up, flowers and fascinators await a taxi; on their way to a wedding, I hope. Woodbridge station is a homely looking building, but I waste no time in setting off up the hill towards Notcutt’s Park, which is a good twenty-minute walk away.


Woodbridge is clearly a well-heeled town, there are large houses, some with naked statuary in the garden and the lamp posts are adorned with somewhat twee hanging baskets, overflowing with summer flowers. I pass by the Cherry Tree pub but do just that, pass by, it looks busy and full of Saturday lunchtime diners. Further up the hill is the local Ford motor dealership where in 1970 my father traded in his maroon 1962 Ford Cortina 1200 for an almost new (ex-demonstrator), beige Ford Cortina 1600 Super, which he always maintained was the best car he ever owned.

Further on, the path leaves the roadside, ascending an embankment and becoming a leafy bower43072886655_a4cf6c222d_o before emerging again into the full light by the Duke of York ‘country’ pub, which is really a ‘family diner’ masquerading as a pub and part of the Vintage Inns chain whose “…rustic buildings offer a country style dining experience…” .

I have been walking for almost fifteen minutes and fearful that the Woodbridge Town clubhouse might only serve insipid Greene King IPA I call in for a pint of Adnams Southwold Bitter (£3.90). At the bar a youngish man orders food. “The menu says you have those kofte things” he says. “Yes” says the bar maid. “I’ll er, have some of them, er please” says the man, showing what sophisticated diners the English have become thanks to the country style dining experience and its ilk.
Refreshed by Adnams Southwold Bitter I press on with the final short leg of my walk to the match through a modern estate of red brick houses, which all look like they are43072882865_26c0797c46_o trying to be nineteenth century Suffolk farmhouses; I imagine their occupants having Ploughman’s lunches for every meal. At the end of a winding road of executive homes is Woodbridge Town Football Club. I follow a man with a carrier bag of empty bottles which he tips into the recycling bin outside before proceeding through the turnstile.

I pay my entry fee (£6.00) receiving a yellow and white ticket in exchange and purchase a programme (£1.00), which annoyingly I will later lose in mysterious circumstances (did it fall from my pocket, or did I leave it in the bar?), it was a glossy publication which I rather liked. After a cursory look across the pitch, where players of both teams are limbering up, I enter the bar and a youth wearing a thick grey anorak as if he’s in in 1990’s indie band serves me with a pint of Adnams Ghostship (£3.50). I feel foolish for worrying about Greene King IPA now and my faith in football club bars is restored, for now. The barman doesn’t look old enough to serve alcohol, but he later takes the anorak off revealing tattoos suggesting he is indeed over eighteen. But maybe he serially lies about his age, has been driving since he was thirteen and had this been a century ago he would already have spent a couple of years in the trenches of northern France. I sink the Ghostship and wander outside into the sun where the crowd is gathering. There are just two stands at Notcutt’s Park, one a covered, shallow metal terrace and the other, which is directly next to it, a brick structure with half a dozen rows of bench seats; I pick a spot in the seated stand and read my programme, which I have not yet lost. After a short while I am surprised to look up and see the two teams and the officials all lined up on the pitch, shaking hands like Baptists on a Sunday morning.
The game begins with Clapton in all blue with yellow socks and sleeves kicking off in the direction of whatever lies northeast of Woodbridge; Ufford probably. Woodbridge Town wear black and white stripes with black shorts and socks, hence their nickname ‘The Woodpeckers’, not that woodpeckers wear football kits and of course not all woodpeckers are black and white; a fact highlighted by the most laudable poster above20180811_144447_42172634410_o the urinals in the toilet urging spectators to buy a re-usable drinks cup and become a ‘green’ woodpecker. All clubs should be doing something OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsimilar.

 

 

Woodbridge play towards the junction with the A12, Martlesham and the tower of BT’s research laboratories which is visible in the distance.

 

The first foul of the game, after just a few seconds, draws a shout from the crowd “That’s about time ref”. Woodbridge look much the better of the two teams in the opening minutes; perhaps they should with former Ipswich Town and Sunderland player Carlos Edwards in their team; they pass the ball whilst Clapton just run about after them. But Woodbridge don’t create any chances to score and when it looks like they might, a Clapton player always manages to be in the way. Woodbridge have the first proper shot of the game, which flies over the Clapton cross bar in the seventh minute. Woodbridge are playing well, but then again they’re not; and Clapton are struggling, but then in a way they’re not because their goalkeeper has not had a save to make. Some of the crowd amuse themselves with shouts and cat calls. “VAR. That was a penalty!” is heard as a Woodbridge player tumbles in the box, and then “Eh, absolute shite ref” as play is waved on. I decide to take a wander, and alone at the corner of the ground I get to play the ball back to the Clapton full-back Lanre Vigo when it goes out for a throw. There is a pause in the action as the somewhat portly referee Mr James Beal speaks to two complaining Woodbridge players. ”Get on with it Porky” is the shout from the crowd; you can’t beat humour at the expense of fat people. I get to touch the ball back to Lanre Vigo again, this time a header, no one congratulates me and although it does knock my glasses off I thought ’I done well’.
Considering that as someone who paid to get in I am getting too many touches of the ball and am therefore bound to embarrass myself (if the flying glasses haven’t already done so) I walk round to the dug outs on the opposite side of the pitch to the stands. Here the Clapton manager and his coach are providing a constant commentary of the game as they live every touch of the ball by their players. “Why do you put it there?” shouts the manager to his goalkeeper Jack Francis “I keep telling you mate, I don’t want it in the centre I want it here”. There are a number of players who receive constant encouragement and instruction, the names Jerome, Warren, Gio and Dylan feature prominently. Number five Dylan Ebongo is a ‘big lad’ who rivals and outstrips the referee for the space he takes up on the pitch, but as is so often the case with players that spectators accuse of having eaten all the pastry based foods, he can play a bit and Dylan is a rock in the Clapton defence.
It’s about twenty five past three and against the run of play Clapton have a corner; at the near post the ball is flicked on, the young Woodbridge goalkeeper Alfie Stronge flaps a bit and the ball meets the goal net in the lovely way that footballs do; it’s 1-0 to Clapton. “Who scored?” asks the happy and surprised Clapton manager of his neatly coiffured number seven Ryan Reed, but he doesn’t seem to know, or I at least I can’t work out what he says.
“Take heart from that” shouts the Clapton manager to his team as if none of them expects not to lose. Despite his constant imploring and helpful encouragement to his players the Clapton manager seems quite pessimistic in private moments when speaking to his coach or simply verbalising his thoughts, or perhaps he’s just realistic. “We’re our own worst enemy”, “We could be in trouble here”, “Now we’ve got trouble” are a few of his comments as the Woodpeckers press, along with his admirably honest assessment that his team has actually done nothing and Woodbridge have had all the play. Despite being a goal up however, ten minutes before half-time there is a falling out between the manager and his number ten Jerome Mortell. Jerome is threatened with being substituted, but his response is simply “Go on then” and within a minute he is stomping his way round to the dressing room, leaving the pitch with the words “I’ve had enough of this shit”. Clapton had only Jacod Dingli on the bench today, and now he’s on the pitch, but at least they’re still winning and very soon they are almost two-nil up as another corner against the run of play sees a header thud against the woodwork of the Woodbridge goal.

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Across the pitch a tall man, immaculately dressed in a dark suit stands out amongst the general scruffiness of the usual football crowd, I believe this is Vince McBean the current owner of Clapton FC and a controversial figure after he allegedly attempted to liquidate the charity that administers Clapton’s Old Spotted Dog ground. From where I stand he looks like an undertaker.

Half-time and I’m one of the first at the bar for another pint of Ghostship (still £3.50) which I follow up with a visit to the toilet where I admire the juxtaposition of a large print of a sunset over the Woodbridge’s tide mill with the urinals; it makes me think of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’. 20180811_144443_42172634020_oBut there is little time to consider twentieth century art, the players are on the pitch and Woodbridge line-up as Clapton huddle. I return to stand between the dugouts where the entertainment is richest, although I do take a moment to enjoy the Co-op’s side by side, edge of pitch advertisements, one solemnly telling us how their funeral service is “Supporting loved ones locally when it matters” (and presumably telling non-local loved ones to clear off) and the other in a lighter frame of mind urging us to ‘Pop to the Co-op’.

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The second half begins and before not very long Ryan Reed intercepts a poor pass and breaks forward, he rides a tackle and is through on goal, he shoots, Alfie Stronge saves but the ball rebounds to Ryan who strikes it confidently and with force inside the far post from a tight angle. It’s 2-0 to Clapton.
The Clapton manager stresses the importance to his players, particularly to big Dylan at the centre of the defence, of holding onto the 2-0 lead in the next ten minutes, which he says will break Woodbridge’s hearts if they can do it. They do and the game seems to settle down with Woodbridge still dominating possession, but mostly over-hitting all their forward passes and crosses. Substitutions are made by Woodbridge and approaching the last fifteen minutes it looks like Clapton will hold on. The Woodbridge manager who incidentally is probably bigger than both the referee and Clapton’s Dylan seems calm, despite his frequent frustration at those over hit passes, is he resigned to a defeat?
Woodbridge for all their inadequacy in terms of shots, are still dominating however and the ball is spending most of its time on the Clapton half of the field. A Clapton player is nearly always the last man to touch the ball inside their own penalty area, but then just after twenty five to five the ball runs loose and Woodbridge’s number seven Callum Sinclair lashes it on the half volley in to the top corner of the Clapton goal to halve Clapton’s lead and give Woodbridge hope.
I came to this game as a neutral but the enthusiasm of the Clapton manager and coach and the fact that they turned up with just one substitute and seemingly a team that must be coached through every kick has me wanting them to hang on for the win. There is also a bit of me that wants rough, deprived, inner city Clapton to triumph over wealthy, privileged Woodbridge, although of course I know in reality that those distinctions don’t actually have any relevance in the context of these two football clubs.
Woodbridge earn a corner, it’s late in the game and goalkeeper Alfie Stronge comes up to add his presence and he heads narrowly over the Clapton cross bar. The Clapton manager berates his players for trying to pass the ball when clearly a hoof is required. That has been a recurring theme but I find it reassuring that players want to play the game ‘beautifully’, because that’s what makes it so good to watch and play whether it comes off or not. The game is into time added on and a half-hearted challenge which causes a slight stumble but no trip sees Mr Neal award a free-kick just outside the penalty area, in range for a well taken direct shot. The Clapton coach is apoplectic and winds himself up by imagining that it’s as if the referee wants Woodbridge to equalise; the manager is not happy about it but is more sanguine realising that whatever will be, will be on the way to Wemb-er-ley. Woodbridge’s number five Liam Scopes steps up to scoop a shot over the wall and into the top left hand corner of the Clapton goal. Woodbridge have tied the match and the Clapton coach is sent off by Mr Beal for simply getting carried away with himself.
There is no time for anything more to happen and I am only sorry that with the time now almost five o’clock I must leave and hot foot it back the railway station to catch the 17:18 back to Ipswich. It’s been a lovely afternoon in the August sun and a thoroughly entertaining game, which has been a credit to both clubs. I am tempted to try and make it to the replay. I’ve had a great time but in about twenty-five minutes I will realise I no longer have my programme.