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.

World Cup 1 Ipswich 0

Oh how I love the World Cup. For a month every four years football is somehow reinvented; transformed into something more magical, intriguing, strange and joyous and I just want to wallow in it.

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The World Cup is not just sixty-four football matches in a month on the telly; for the first two weeks it’s thrice daily football on the telly and this year on the first Saturday there were four matches to watch in one day. But it’s not just the overdose of football that excites, we’re not exactly short of televised football anymore; what makes the World Cup so different, so much better is that it’s a celebration and it’s all so exotic. It’s not the same-old boring diet of Premier League and Champions League that gluts the airwaves the rest of the year, with the same boring, conceited, miserable clubs playing each other over and over and over again. Some of the players are the same, but lots of them aren’t and for a month they are released from prostituting themselves for filthy TV money and they play for something higher, for the glory (okay, there have been a few exceptions, step forward Togo2006 for example).
Just the idea of Japan v Senegal, Serbia v Cost Rica, Iran v Spain, Panama v Belgium, Australia v Peru and Iceland v Argentina is thrilling; such diversity of geography , weather, indigenous wildlife, people and culture is mind boggling and it’s all united for a month by football and a desire to hear each country’s national anthem at least three times, and of course the national anthems are marvellous. The South American countries have anthems that are like mini-symphonies with an overture and then what follows is so grand and so passionate. Then there is the wonderful Russian national anthem and of course the Marseillaise, in my opinion the finest of all national anthems. If you are ever

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in Marseille then I can thoroughly recommend the

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museum in Rue des Arts which is devoted to the Marseillaise and its history. As the anthems play we get to see the supporters in the stand, many in fancy dress or national costume, singing and holding on to the moment.
On the pitch there are players of different creeds and cultures representing those creeds and cultures that define their country, and whilst those things are beautiful and fascinating and really matter, and each team is driven by national pride and the essence of what identifies them as a nation, at the same time these things do not matter because the World Cup is actually all about the football; football is the common language and it unites. So whilst we cannot help but be aware of all this diversity of race, beliefs, attitudes, cultures and national anthems which matter to individuals from each country, at the same time we can ignore it and get on with just playing football. This is how not being racist really works, being aware of race and respecting it but simultaneously paying no attention to it at all, so that you don’t actually notice what race a person is; we are all just people.
Enthused by the melting pot that is the World Cup therefore, when I saw a Tweet from Ipswich Town saying that the fanzone would be open for people to watch England World Cup matches on a big screen I re-Tweeted it with this comment:
“Here’s an idea, what about showing Poland’s games and Portugal’s games in the fanzone too? Not everyone in Ipswich supports England. In fact, why not show every game?”
It wasn’t long before someone Tweeted a two word response; “Terrible idea” they Tweeted, which I thought was rather rude and a bit arrogant. If you want to disagree at least explain why. A polite person would surely have begun their Tweet with “Sorry, but I do not agree that that is a good idea, for the following reasons…” Foolishly rising to the bait, I replied to the rude tweet asking in an innocent and curious tone “Why’s that then?”. The ‘answer’ to my question was soon Tweeted, although it wasn’t really an answer but rather an unnecessary question, which suggested that the other Tweeter hadn’t really read and understood my initial Tweet properly; his question was “Where would it stop?”. I replied that it wouldn’t and that the whole of the World Cup could be shown. A further reply was soon forthcoming, once again in the form of a question, but with a couple of statements at the end.
“You want the whole of the World Cup shown in a fan zone, in a sleepy suffolk town. Columbia vs Japan? Azerbaijan vs Kazakhstan? There’s just no market for it Martin.” There were plenty of things wrong with this response beyond the absence of a capital ‘S’ in Suffolk and the mis-spelling of Colombia I thought, but the final sentence of this Tweet sent this exchange of tweets hurtling into the abyss with what I can only describe as the ‘punchline’; “Lets not forget brexit means brexit” it read. Despite the missing apostrophe I was particularly amused by the use of the words “Lets not forget… ”, but nevertheless, the overall effect on me was one of disappointment and incredulity. What was this bloke on about?
I didn’t reply to the Tweet because of the whiff of xenophobic nutcase that it had released. I had however desperately wanted to reply so that I could point out that neither Azerbaijan nor Kazakhstan are in the World Cup finals, that the Tweeter had seemingly confused Ipswich with Wickham Market or Eye (sleepy Suffolk Town?) and to ask for the evidence that there was no market for showing all of the World Cup in the Portman Road fan zone. But of course mostly I wanted to know what the heck the World Cup, Colombia, Japan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan had to do with ‘Brexit’. In fact what does anything have to do with ‘Brexit’, a composite word for something that doesn’t exist and which to date no one can define.

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At the very beginning of Simon Critchley’s book “What we think about when we think about football” he quotes nineteenth century American philosopher William James who wrote “I am sorry for the boy or girl, man or woman who has not been touched by the spell of this mysterious sensorial life…with its supreme felicity”. I know exactly what William James meant. It is so sad that people have such a blinkered, joyless perception of the world around them, that their worlds are so closed. I hope that the Tweeter I have quoted was the exception and not indicative of the general opinion of Ipswich Town fans, but later two other Tweeters ‘liked’ the “Terrible Idea“ response to my initial Tweet and I died a little inside.
But I’m alright again now, for the time being, until August when Championship football comes home to Portman Road once again.

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