Witham Town 1 AFC Hornchurch 6

Today is a bright and beautiful Spring day and it’s a ten minute train ride (£4.25 return with a Gold Card) to Witham, once an elegant country town with a spa, but since the 1960’s consumed by massive estates of London County Council overspill housing. The train is on time, opposite me six blokes in their late twenties or early thirties and one who looks older, talk uninterestingly about a mystery Tottenham Hotspur player. “Last season he was good, he just went in and got the ball and passed it to someone else, but then he started doing all this twisty-turny stuff …”
As I get off the train a railway employee carrying a metal ramp looks at me and in vain for a passenger in a wheelchair. I point down to the next set of doors on the car “He’s getting off down there” I tell him, not lying. Witham station is of red brick and has

Witham Railway Station

decorative cast iron pillars and brackets holding up the canopies over the platforms; a bright and airy glazed bridge above takes you to the road outside. It was much re-built in the early twentieth century after some of it was demolished by a de-railed express train. It’s a lovely old station, a bit like a film set; I look without success for Celia Johnson or Trevor Howard.
A few football supporters, one with a red and white bar scarf, stand outside the Railway pub, which is across the road.

The Railway pub Witham

It’s a fifteen minute walk from the station to Witham Town’s Spa Road ground and I turn left crossing the bridge over the railway tracks. Beyond the station is Baird’s maltings, a looming backdrop of steel grain holders and monumental concrete, Witham’s cathedral. An Australian flag flies outside the maltings signifying its ownership by the international, antipodean brewing suppliers, Graincorp Malt Group.

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I turn right over the bridge into Collingwood Road, past the Labour Party Hall and on into Guithavon Valley, through the nature reserve that straddles the strangely named River Brain. The path turns back through a mighty brick tunnel beneath the

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railway line; rounding the corner past an Asda the ‘Village Glass Stadium’ comes into view at the top of a grassy rise. Set apart from any houses or other buildings, surrounded by a steel palisade fence and with its floodlights and a cross of St George flying above, Witham Town’s ground looks like a commercially sponsored pre-historic hillfort; the access road winds up between the ramparts. Wikipedia tells us that there is evidence of Neolithic occupation in Witham. If there was a zombie apocalypse in Witham, this would be the place to come to be besieged.

Witham Town

As I cross Spa Road towards the ground a stag party wearing stripy blazers and false

moustaches walks from the direction of the football ground. The access to the ground is not pedestrian friendly, there is no dedicated footpath, so I clamber up the grassy bank. It’s not obvious where the turnstiles are but they’re not hard to find. I tender a twenty pound note for the £8 entry fee, but the turnstile operator has little change and asks if I’ve got anything smaller, as it happens I have a fiver and some coins for which I am given an orange ticket. With no change left I tender a twenty pound note to the programme seller who fortunately has plenty of change. The programme (£2) is for three matches this week as Witham catch up on their fixtures after several recent postponements due to very wet weather. Flush with pound coins I lighten the load on my left trouser pocket by investing in a strip of five tickets for the 50-50 draw (£1).
The club shop is a cupboard by the turnstile, the stock is in a cardboard box, but nothing takes my fancy so I look for the bar; I can’t find it so poke my head around the door of the portacabin that is the boardroom to ask directions.

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On the outside wall of the portacabin is a large advert for the local Tory MP, Priti Patel;

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I wonder to myself if she gets to many games now, between her secret meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu; maybe she brings him along to enjoy hospitality in the portacabin. It seems there is no direct access from inside the ground into the bar, but it is possible to get a drink through the hatch from which teas and coffees and trays of chips are sold, so that’s what I do. Pleased that I’ve beaten the rush, I watch a queue grow at the tea hatch as I sit in the sun at a Yogi-bear-style picnic table with my programme and a plastic cup of John Smith’s Bitter (£3.40); sadly only pasteurised beer is available.
Sensing the onset of kick-off I stir myself and arrive pitch side as the teams enter the

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arena and go through the pre-match handshakes. Witham kick-off the game towards the railway line end sporting white shirts, navy blue shorts and red socks, whilst Hornchurch are in a change-kit of all-yellow, presumably they’ve not worn they’re usual red and white striped shirts and red shorts because their socks would also be red, like Witham’s. Witham, who are 14th out of twenty-four in the Bostik North Division table start well and look keen. AFC Hornchurch, who are ten points clear at the top of the table and only need a win to secure promotion, look less so, but their fans are here in numbers and are in good voice singing a variety of songs about ‘ornchurch. Interestingly Hornchurch are nicknamed The Urchins, a name presumably constructed for the last four letters of the word Hornchurch and considered preferable to a nickname based on the first four letters of the word. Urchins make up a good deal more than half of the attendance of 178 today.
I wander around the ground taking in the sights and sounds. I hear half a conversation between the two number eights, diminutive, alice band-wearing John Watson, captain of Witham and the huge Olu Oluwatimilehin of Hornchurch. Watson must have been complaining about a challenge as I hear Oluwatimilehin say “But I am always fair”. I watch him for a bit and he’s right, he is a massive bloke but he’s a gentle giant; if he wasn’t Watson would have been flattened.
The game is a bit messy. There are moments of individual skill in controlling and passing the ball but they don’t join up. In a moment of disinterest I spot the Baird maltings off in the distance beyond one corner of the ground and in another I am somewhat repulsed

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by an advert for “Personal Vapour ”, which sounds faintly disgusting. It’s almost twenty past three and George Purcell shoots at the Witham goal, he shins the ball hopelessly but it’s a perfect pass to Brad Warner who scores easily, and against the run of play Hornchurch are ahead. Celebration ensues on the pitch and behind the goal and the game has life. Every few minutes a long white train slides past on the embankment beyond the Hornchurch fans who are singing, to the tune of Rod Stewart’s Sailing “ We are ‘ornchurch, no one likes us, we don’t care” . At the end of a verse I ask the nearest Urchin “ So why does no one like ‘ornhurch then?”. “I dunno” he says “ Beats me an’ all” .
Witham have a small vocal knot of fans behind the other goal whose constant chants echo off the tin walls and roof of the stand. With almost one union flag or cross of St George for each of them, from a distance they look unfortunately like an ad hoc meeting of the BNP. At about half-past three Kenzer Lee clears a Witham Town shot off the goal line, but now it’s almost half-time and a corner to Hornchurch is headed in at the far post by Elliott Styles who ironically only a short while before had been treated for a head injury. It’s 2-0 to happy Hornchurch.

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With half-time I feel in need of refreshment and head for the tea and chips hatch, but seeing a group walk out through a gate marked with a no entry sign and on into the car park from where it is possible to access the club house, I follow. At the bar, a woman possibly in her seventies and a man who is perhaps slightly older and wears a shirt and tie and a cardigan, serve drinks assisted by a much younger woman who reminds very vaguely of that Dr.Lucy Worsley off the telly; I think it’s only her haircut. In the absence of any real beer I order a pint of John Smith’s Bitter (£3.40) and take a seat at a table in front of the television. I watch the half-time scores. Opposite me is an elderly, grey haired man with a somewhat miserable demeanour. Every word he speaks seems to betray a lifetime of disappointment. He’s looking at a betting slip and at the half-time scores, which seem to be going his way. A younger, red-faced man in a Hornchurch shirt is looking over his shoulder. “Oh, you don’t want that” he says “Newport are two up”. The older man looks down at the piece of paper. “Aaah Shit!” he blurts with the deepest imaginable bitterness. The old man is just like Reg (Karl Johnson), the character from the BBC Two TV comedy series “Mum”.
I leave the club house and head out into the car park and back into the stadium through the turnstiles. I haven’t won the 50-50 draw and the game has just started again. The Hornchurch fans are singing “We’re on our way, we’re on our way, to the Bostik Premier, We’re on our way”. But are they counting un-hatched chickens? Just before a quarter past four Witham score, a cross from John Watson is neatly half volleyed past Urchin’s goalkeeper Sam Mott by Liam Whipps. “Come on ‘ornchurch, get your arses into gear” bellows a man just behind me. Three minutes later and bottoms are apparently engaged as George Purcell is felled in the penalty area and referee Mr Hancock awards a penalty kick from which Purcell himself scores.
Unusually for me, the second half is all about the football as first Witham are also awarded a penalty, which Sam Mott saves and then almost instantly the ball is booted up the other end of the pitch; Bobby Mason the Witham ‘keeper misses the ball and Alex Bentley who has replaced Olu Oluwatimilehin, rolls it into the net to give Hornchurch a 4-1 lead, and it’s not half past four yet. In celebration the Hornchuch fans sing to the tune of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 (Land of Hope & Glory) “We ‘ate Dag’nam and Re-dbridge, We ‘ate Ca-nvey too, (they’re shit), We ‘ate Gra-ys A-ffle’ic, But ‘ornchurch we love you”.
Goal number five for Hornchurch, a Brad Warner header from a right wing cross, is scored with a bit more than ten minutes left and the Hornchurch fans’ thoughts turn to a night of continued celebration and they sing “We’re on the piss, with Dave Collis” ; Dave Collis being a substitute who for some reason remains on the bench. Finally, in time added on for injuries and for bad behaviour, of which there has been none, Alex Bentley strikes a shot against the base of a goal post and Chris Assambalonga scores simply from the re-bound. The final score is Witham Town 1 AFC Horchurch 6.
I linger a short while to witness the joy of the Hornchurch players and supporters cavorting about in front of and within the tin stands, but then head off back out through the turnstile, down the grassy slope, across Spa Road, past Asda where I overtake ‘Reg’ and on through the nature reserve, past the Labour Party hall towards the railway station and the view of the maltings.
It’s been a typical late season afternoon of football in the sunshine, but with added trains, dropped aitches and two teams of displaced eastenders. But most of all it’s been an afternoon in which Hornchurch has broken free of the shackles of pointlessness and failure that anchor everyone else, to win promotion; and it’s lovely to see, particularly if it’s really true that no one likes them.

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Ipswich Town 2 Brentford 0

Ipswich Town have won their first four matches this season, something the team hasn’t done since 1999. It’s enough to make an Ipswich Town fan feel a bit giddy and I do, and worried. The last three of those wins have all been away from home and now the team return to Portman Road for today’s match versus Brentford, a club who I still can’t help thinking has its name prefaced by the words ‘fourth division’. That’s the division Brentford were in when I saw their most well-known (only?) celebrity fan, Rick Wakeman live at Ipswich Gaumont back in the mid 1970’s. As an Ipswich Town fan my most memorable football experiences are all rooted in the past. I haven’t got used to Brentford being a second division club, even though I know that in the 1940’s they were in the Premier League or First Division as George Orwell, Clement Attlee, Clark Gable and Josef Stalin knew it. I apologise to Brentford supporters everywhere, although hopefully some of you pine for those days of games against Colchester United and Crewe Alexandra.
Ipswich Town has something to lose, so it is with a sense of trepidation that I set out to catch the train. Can the Town maintain their unbeaten, all-conquering run? I am not used to such questions. As I stand on the platform waiting, on the other side of the tracks a poster36677654895_b0685b3db9_o-1 advertising The SAMARITANS picks out the words “I’ve lost hope” which normally would be the case, but today I don’t know what to think. There is hope it seems, but is there really hope? Surely this run of consecutive wins will end now the team must play again in front of its taciturn, mostly silent, unsupportive home supporters. The pressure of playing in front of Brexit voting miserabilists will prove too much to bear, won’t it?
I try and enjoy the journey. Opposite me a man is taking his very young son to his first match. As the train passes through Colchester, he points out the Asda store to him. No, not Colchester castle, or Jumbo the water tower, or the fine Edwardian town hall clock tower; Asda, f…ing Asda. Perhaps he wasn’t a complete philistine, maybe he just worked in retail.
Arriving in Ipswich at about 13:25 it’s a temperate afternoon, but cloudy. The turnstiles of Portman Road are yet to open, but a few people, presumably with nothing else in their lives, wait at the doors to get in when they do. Otherwise Portman Road is quiet, the programme kiosks stand isolated by the kerb looking like designs rejected by the BBC for Dr Who’s Tardis. The statue of Bobby Robson stands alone looking as if he is directing people around the corner; polythene ‘goody-bags’ containing the local newspaper, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water litter the pavement waiting to be bought.

I walk on to St Jude’s Tavern which is quieter than usual, although there is a table of Brentford fans who obviously appreciate good beer. I consume a pint of Earl Soham Albert Ale with a beef and onion pie (£5.00 the pair) and later a pint of Milton Medusa (£3.40) and talk with a friend who has just returned with his partner from a week in Berlin; he tells me he didn’t get to see the home of Hertha Berlin but we agree that virtually everywhere either of us has ever visited in Europe is nicer than Britain. We don’t discuss why but I think it’s because we still have a monarchy and have failed to properly embrace social democracy.
Beer glass drained, it is time to head back down to Portman Road which is still not that busy even at ten to three. As I head towards the stadium a big-breasted woman walking the other way shouts swearily into her mobile phone. A seagull sits on a lamp standard looking down on the statue of Alf Ramsey,36672917115_22e6776e6b_o but with a beady eye on the burger van adjacent to him and any discarded junk food; it’s a good place for a scavenger to hang out. On the Cobbold Stand the club crest and the union flag fly together in the strong breeze and in the street below a35863643543_fd0a0303c0_o Brentford fan is either playing aeroplanes or is being frisked as he queues to enter the ground. Inside the ground the lack of custom at the “matchday essentials” kiosk suggests it’s not really selling essentials at all.
I urinate in the appropriate place and then take up my seat in the stand. The teams enter the field and everyone applauds. The game begins. Brentford, whose nickname is The Bees, probably just because ‘B’ is the first letter in Brentford, wear red and white striped shirts with black shorts and red stockings, or socks as they are more prosaically known; they look a picture as teams in striped kits often do. In the away supporters’ stand two flags bearing the St George cross indicate that Brentford supporters are from as far afield as Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Ealing Road.35863614623_f780c5d607_o
After some early, even sparring Brentford start to dominate possession of the ball, selfishly kicking it about amongst themselves, whilst Ipswich just try to keep it away from their own goal. The only cheer to emanate from Ipswich fans is when the Brentford goalkeeper slips over. Predictably the ‘keeper then stares at the turf where he slipped as if expecting to see a carelessly discarded banana skin which would explain away his embarrassment. The scoreboard dies; scoreboardwe do not see it re-illuminated all afternoon. The Brentford fans chant “Come on Brentford, Come on Brentford” which seems a bit superfluous because their team are doing fine, they just haven’t scored, and it seems that that sentence fragment is missing the word ‘yet’ on the end.
The Ipswich fans have to seek happiness where they can in a situation like this and helpfully the Bees number nine, Neal Maupay lies still on the ground after Jordan Spence brushes past him to win the ball. Receiving no free-kick Maupay jumps up quickly, too quickly, to remonstrate with the referee Mr Oliver Langford, thus proving his guilt as a diver and a cheat and according to the North Stand a “wanker” too. Maupay is a recent signing from France’s finest club St Etienne (although he was on loan at Stade Brestois last season) and being born at Versailles, although presumably not in the palace, he is French, so he may not have understood the word; for future reference the French translation for wanker would be branleur.
Maupay’s histrionics are perhaps a sign of The Bees growing sense of frustration and at about twenty-five to three that is increased as David McGoldrick runs into the penalty box and falls to the ground under a challenge; as everyone turns to the referee to see him signal no penalty, the ball and Town’s Martyn Waghorn are seemingly the only objects to keep moving and ‘Waggy’ joyously sweeps the ball past the Brentford goalkeeper to give Town a lead which, on the balance of attacking play is somewhat unexpected and undeserved. But the ‘balance of play’ has never counted for anything and probably never will unless the big six clubs in the Premier League consistently begin to lose every week despite having the ‘balance of play’.
Buoyed to ridiculous proportions by the goal, the North Stand fans break into a chorus of the folk song The Wild Rover , singing “ Ipswich Town, Ipswich Town FC, they’re the finest football team the world has ever seen” . This is a song not heard at Portman Road in some time and it stirs memories of the early 1980’s when the words rang true. Meanwhile the Bees have been stung into action and a very, very firmly struck shot hits the Ipswich cross bar with such force that the woodwork springs up and down in blurry resonance and I surmise that had an unsuspecting seagull been sat upon it, the unfortunate bird would have been catapulted up over the roof of the stand. Despite continuing Brentford possession of the ball, Ipswich do not yield and can enjoy their half-time teas and reflect on being in the lead.
I enjoy half-time by eating a Traidcraft mixed berries chewy cereal bar, which I did not purchase in the ground because such ethically sourced snacks are not available from the club’s food and drink outlets. With a captive audience, football clubs could prioritise the sale of locally and ethically sourced products, but they don’t, perhaps because they just don’t care. Later I muse upon a pitch- side advertisement at the far end of the ground for Red7 Marine who, apparently, are ‘jack-up barge specialists’. 36508278362_db3bd9aa74_oDo many football supporters often require the services of a jack-up barge specialist? Is this a good place to advertise? What is a jack-up barge? I conclude that there are many things in this world of which I have no understanding. God bless Google and their tax dodging ways, they will explain.
Fortunately the second half begins, although once again it’s Brentford who are buzzing while Ipswich just drone on, sportingly kicking the ball back to their guests to give them another go. But then at about ten past four Ipswich win a corner and Joe Garner’s diving header is cleared off the goal line; except that it’s not, because the ball has crossed the line and a slightly delayed celebration signifies that Ipswich now lead by two-goals to nil.
The spectators in the lower tier of the North Stand, who last season berated manager Mick McCarthy for this ‘shit football’ now become either self-deprecatingly ironic or simply overcome with such deep joy that they lose all sense of self-awareness and, rather endearingly, to the tune of the children’s song Skip to My Lou, they chant “Super, Super Mick, Super, Super Mick, Super, Super Mick, Super Mick McCarthy”. I imagine Mick McCarthy would find this amusing whilst muttering under his breath “duplicitous bastards”.
The game returns to its familiar pattern with Brentford players kicking the ball from one to another and occasionally to a Town player. Ipswich attack now and then as possession of the ball permits, but defend mostly and they do this very well indeed. Brentford pass the ball neatly, but they seem to be playing without forwards; Maupay is mopey and is booked. Ipswich are probably as likely to score as Brentford, although it’s not that comfortable an experience to watch for Town fans. I am struck by how much the Brentford number six resembles the FA Cup with his fashionable short back and sides haircut accentuating his sticky-out ears.
Happily Town are hanging on to win the match and the crowd appreciate their efforts, for this is a much weakened team missing all the club’s recognised senior centre-halves and two or three first choice midfield players. Naturally the majority of the crowd do not chant their appreciation in the traditional manner of football spectators, because this is Ipswich where voices are weak and people a bit shy, but there are bouts of rhythmic clapping; I am reminded of John Lennon telling the audience in the expensive seats at the Royal Variety Performance to rattle their jewellery to show their appreciation.
With the final whistle from the bonny Mr Langford, a wave of relief flows from the stands and the tannoy blares out the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over”; the only explanation for which must be that Town’s next match (a League Cup tie) is at Crystal Palace and that’s what they do there. Personally, I prefer the cover version by The Rezillos.
That’s five consecutive victories and the two-fingers raised to those who lacked the faith and the understanding of what it is to be a football supporter and therefore failed to renew their season tickets grows larger, although they will doubtless claim vindication as soon as Town inevitably do lose. Branleurs.

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