Ipswich Town 1 Derby County1


I usually catch the train home from work at about ten to five, but today I am engrossed; writing a report and explaining why a deadline has to be extended. At about five past five however, my stomach feels slightly jittery, I am feeling inexplicably anxious and my concentration is waning , thoughts of beer and football tumble over one another displacing everything else in my mind. All at once it seems horribly late, it’s getting dark outside, I can feel my heart beginning to pound.  I have to leave.  At five-fifteen I step out into the cool, dimming light of dusk in Ipswich.  Office lights shine out sadly from upper floor windows casting shadows of regret.  But what do I care, I am making straight for St Jude’s Tavern.

I pass the Ipswich Town main gate where people wait like groupies at the stage door. Is it a free ticket they crave or a glimpse of a star player arriving for the match in his nastily ostentatious Audi or Range Rover?  A steward leans in towards the wound down window of a Ford Fiesta, perhaps explaining that this sort of car isn’t acceptable round here and there is a Council pay and display car park over in Portman Road for his sort. I walk on past warning signs about CCTV and bag inspections, past burger vans and polythene goodie bags containing the local paper. It all has a certain beauty.

In St Jude’s Tavern I collect a pint of the Match Day Special, St Jude’s Thaddeus (£2), I ask if they have any pies, but they haven’t. I console myself with the thought that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I sit down with two of the superannuated old blokes who are here before every match; we talk football and Ipswich Town.  The older looking of the two tells me he saw Town play three games during their last season in Division Three South in 1957, versus Bristol City, Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday.  He’s talking nonsense because none of those teams was in Division Three that season.  The memory can play tricks.

I buy another pint of Thaddeus and Mick arrives, and then so does ever-present Phil who never misses a game, they both drink Thaddeus and Phil remarks that it tastes like it’s ‘on the way out’, it is, and for my final pint of the evening I choose St Jude’s Oatmeal Stout (£3.60); it’s an extra £1.60 well-spent.  Along with third division football grounds, a jazz festival in Nice and what the city of Derby is famous for (Rolls Royce, real ale pubs and Bombardier trains) we talk of euphemisms for dying and I relay how a member of staff at the crematorium in Colchester referred to my ninety eight year old mother-in-law’s eventual death as being when “she performs”, which we all agreed was a very odd turn of phrase. 

After just a half, Phil leaves first for the ground because he’s going to visit the Fan Zone,  but Mick and I also leave earlier than is decent because Mick has to arrange a refund having bought two tickets together in the West Stand for tonight’s match even though I have a season ticket in Churchman’s.  Mick is extremely polite in the ticket office and I feel slightly guilty when the ‘saleswoman’ says that the club doesn’t usually move season tickets seats and I reply a little snappily “Well, they did for the Rotherham game.”  As a person who generally is almost as polite as Mick, I can’t really explain my bad attitude, but suspect I harbour a lot of resentment as a result of being a season ticket holder for the past 35 years. I am also fearful that if the club knew that I sometimes imagine handing out flares, or at least sparklers in the family and disabled enclosures I would be banned for life.

The ticket refund palaver has made us late and the teams are already on the pitch and participating in a minute’s applause for the late Gordon Banks who very sadly has ‘performed’ today.  By the time we have drained our bladders and taken up our seats the game is just kicking off.  Tonight’s opponents are Derby County a club whose appearances at Portman Road in their halcyon days of the early 1970’s I somehow contrived to miss. Despite first attending Portman Road in 1971, I failed to see Derby County play here until December 1977, by which time their once brilliant star had started to wane.  It is for this reason perhaps that I have no strong views on Derby County and in my mental map of league football they appear only faintly as peripheral, shadowy figures.   Tonight’s game will do nothing to alter this image as Derby line up and begin the game in the most insipid, uninspired and vapid kit of pale grey shirts, shorts and socks with lime green cuffs and trim. Town meanwhile sport their usual blue and white attire despoiled by the anything but magical “Magical Vegas” logo.

Perhaps as a result of low self-esteem induced by that “Magical Vegas” logo or because they simply didn’t notice the Derby players drift by in their shadowy, foggy kit, Town offer up the customary one-goal lead to the opposition within the first two-minutes. Bloody hell.   Town are now quite literally giving teams a goal start, I fear they will soon be kicking off every game with a ball already in the back of their net to save time.

Happily, once play resumes it’s as if the goal never really happened and for people reaching their seats only fractionally after Mick and me, it never did.  Town soon settle into playing passing football and they dominate possession. The crowd, who we will later be told number 18,604 (including 926 from Derby) are behind the team as one; the Sir Bobby Robson stand is as good as full and the enthusiasm engendered by the Blue Action group has seemingly spread all along the lower tier.  “Man On!” shouts the man behind me trying to help out Town’s on-loan full-back James Bree. “Who’s that” asks Mick . “Bree” I reply. “What, Bree as in tree?”. “Yes”.

“Ohh, just that bit too high, weren’t it” says the bloke behind me as a Town’s first corner kick sails over everyone’s’ heads. He’s not wrong. “O-oh no-o” he then says developing an ugly streak of pessimism when Alan Judge’s pass is intercepted.  There’s no such doubt in the Sir Bobby Robson stand however where “Ipswich ‘til I die, I’m Ipswich ‘til I die, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m Ipswich ‘til I die (or perform)” is the life-affirming song of the day.   All the Derby fans can muster in response is a wishy-washy “Lampard, Lampard, give us a wave” which he does, limp-wristedly.

This is a good game and things get better as the first player booked is former Ipswich darling Martyn Waghorn, as he fails to fool referee Mr Andy Madly into awarding him a free-kick and pays the price for his impression of someone ‘performing’.  The smell of chips wafts up into the middle tier of the East of England Co-op stand as half-time approaches but the bloke behind me refuses to be optimistic “ Oh, here we go” he says as a Derby player runs at the Town defence.  A flowing passing move releases Town’s Collin Quaner into the penalty box, he shapes to shoot and I tense my calves, ready to jump up, but he shoots high and wide having almost fooled me into thinking he might actually score.

Matthew Pennington is having possibly his best game so far in a Town shirt and I can think of no higher compliment, for the time being, other than to say he reminds me of David Linighan; it’s his leggy run I think.  Less leggy is diminutive, little Alan Judge who is nevertheless a cut above his fellow midfielders and reminds me of Olympique Marseille’s Valere Germaine, but with a little bit more hair.  Trevoh Chalobah tips over Derby’s number seven Harry Wilson whom Brian Clough would hopefully have called Harold Wilson.  “He was lucky to get away with that” says the bloke behind, adding “He does do that” as if to explain that he can’t help himself, which the referee understands and is why he didn’t book him.   Pessimism soon returns however as the bloke behind me muses “If they score another, that’s it”.   He couldn’t enjoy the game if he wasn’t so miserable.

Half-time necessitates further bladder draining before stepping out onto the practice pitch to take the air and stretch our legs.  The middle tier of the West Stand is a little uncomfortable for people who exceed 1.8m height like Mick and me, but we rationalise our pain by deducing that in the 1950’s when the lower part of the stand was built people were probably shorter on average, perhaps because they never had the benefit of free-school milk that us baby boomers enjoyed.

Refreshed and un-coiled we resume our positions and Town resume their dominance.  Derby really are as pale and innocuous as their kit, which barely seems possible.  Surely Ipswich are on the brink of the play-offs and Derby bottom of the league?  “As if to verify this the North Stand chants “Can you hear the Derby sing? No-o, No-o”.  It is the first time in years that Town fans have had the confidence to sing this.  

A Derby player has the ball, “Put him under! “ Put him under” shouts a wannabe coach or anaesthetist.  Trevoh Chalobah misplaces a pass and we speculate that his bleached, dreadlocked fringe got in his eyes.  Jon Nolan replaces Flynn Downes for Town; for some reason I cannot hear the name Nolan without thinking of the Nolan sisters and I am reminded that Anne Nolan was married to former Blackpool footballer Brian Wilson and I enjoy the ‘Seasiders’ and ‘Beach Boys’ connection.  Within two minutes of Nolan’s appearance, Collin Quaner lays the ball off to him and everyone is in the mood for dancing as his low shot tears past Kelle Roos the Derby goalkeeper.   What a great goal!  But when your team hasn’t scored for three games and seldom does anyway, the feeling of elation reaches new heights. Winning might be overrated, but scoring isn’t.

This is the best match of the season so far, by far. Defeat at Norwich, or perhaps more so Paul Lambert’s alleged threats of violence towards the Norwich goalkeeping coach have been an inspiration.  “Paul Lambert is a Blue, Is a Blue, Is a Blue; Paul Lambert is a Blue, He hates Norwich” to the tune of London Bridge is falling down tumbles from the mouth of the Northstanders.  The rest of the stadium remains pretty moribund but they carry us through.  The pessimist behind remains un-moved from his dark outlook. “Uh, ohh” he groans as a Derby cross flies in.   Meanwhile I breathe deeply the smell of the damp, cold turf.  Derby come with a late surge on the back of some forlorn cries of “Come on Derby” from the 926 in the Cobbold Stand; they hit a post and miss a shot but nothing terrible happens.

After five minutes of additional time courtesy of six substitutions and the usual needy players craving the attention of the physio, the day-glo shirted Mr Madley whistles with final certainty.  We all get up to go home, but not before a round of applause and a general exchange of good wishes and loving feelings.  Happiness reigns; Town haven’t won, but they haven’t lost and even if they had I didn’t think most of us would have minded that much, because even though they didn’t look very much like scoring it was clear that was what they were trying to do.   It makes me wonder if we’re not re-defining sport here in Ipswich, returning it back to what it’s meant to be.  We’ll need a few more relegations to accomplish that fully however and the Southern Amateur League isn’t what it used to be.  It’s been a while since we played the Crouch End Vampires.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Coggeshall Town 4 Ely City 1

 

-“Paul says he’s going to watch Coggeshall tonight, do you want to go?”
-“Ooh, I dunno, I hadn’t planned on going, it’s a bit cold. What will you do? Won’t you be lonely here on your own?”
-“I’ll sit here for a bit then just go to bed and read”
-“Oh, okay then, tell him yes”
So it was that I was easily swayed, despite obvious concerns about my wife’s mental well-being; but it turns out she’s not as angst ridden and depressed as me. A half an hour later after wrapping up warm, it is with a glad heart that I ring my neighbour’s door bell and having said hello and goodbye to his wife Sarah we’re away in his white Ford SUV type thing, eventually making best use of its high frame to negotiate the impressively rutted car park of ‘The Crops’, now mainly known as West Street, the home ground of Coggeshall Town.
The glare of the floodlights spills over the car park, and through the half-light Paul spots Olly Murs moving a metal barrier a couple of feet so that the bloke he is with can park a large Audi. At the turnstile Geoff the turnstile operator is his usual cheery and welcoming self. Paul says hello and asks how his boy Mikey is; it turns out Mikey isn’t his boy at all, but the son of a friend. A queue forms at the turnstile as Paul and Geoff natter . Admission is £6 each but there are no programmes, although Geoff says if he can find one about he’ll get it to me., which is nice of him.
As we walk the path towards the club house the teams are already out, warming up and

huddling conspiratorially as if someone is telling a really dark secret or a filthy joke. Paul and I stop a little beyond the stand above what looks like a rabbit burrow and the game soon kicks off. Coggeshall are wearing their customary , attractive kit of red and black striped shirts with black shorts. Tonight’s opponents are Ely City, the only medieval cathedral city in the Eastern Counties Premier League. Coggeshall are second in the league table with a goal difference of plus 93 whilst Ely (nickname The Robins) are bobbing along in mid-table somewhere. Ely are wearing an unusual all-green kit, rendered all the more unusual by red flashes under the armpits. If kits count for anything it’s already 1-0 to Coggeshall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The game begins frenetically and with a lot of shouting and swearing. “Don’t let ‘em settle”, “Fuckin’ get into ‘em” are the early cries along with inevitable “Second ball!” It’s a very Anglo-Saxon approach, which no doubt does a huge disservice to the somewhat forgotten, more artistic Anglo-Saxons responsible for all the lovely brooches and buckles. The harsh voices ring out through the cold night air. Ten minutes gone and Coggeshall have the first shot; number ten Ross Wall bearing down on goal from the right only to scuff his shot into the side netting.
Coggeshall seem in a hurry, but lack accuracy as a result and Ely are doing alright. It’s two minutes past eight and a ball to the left, then a ball over the top of the Coggeshall defence is struck deftly with the outside of his boot high into the Coggeshall goal by the Ely number nine Dan Brown, which is a great name for a bloke playing for a team from a medieval cathedral city. It’s to be hoped he’ll be drinking his half-time cuppa from some sort of grail. It’s a very fine goal indeed and a bunch of four or five well insulated people in front of us cheer and clap as if they have come all the way from Ely, and they probably have.
Ely are happily surprised, Coggeshall a bit taken aback, but as the first half proceeds it seems Ely are worth their lead. In their haste Coggeshall are forgetting to do anything in midfield and Ely are able have a decent amount of possession and prevent them from establishing any sort of passing rhythm. Five minutes later and the Ely ‘keeper is heard to shout “Keep going”, which seems a bit desperate when there’s still seventy minutes left; it’s a bit early to have considered not being able to carry on.
Further up the pitch the language is more colourful, or whatever colour the word “fuckin” is. “Fuckin’ ‘ell lino” someone exclaims and then Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson announces “That was a fuckin’ elbow”, he then repeats himself before running up to referee George Byrne to say “Ref, that was a fuckin’ elbow” , just in case he was in any doubt that it was a “fuckin’ elbow”.
They’re not playing well but Coggeshall have had a few corners and  are still getting chances to score; Wall first sends the ball past the other post and then has it saved by the Ely goalkeeper Ben Mayhew. Number nine Nnamdi Nwachuku swings his foot limply at the ball and misses it when he has just Ben Mayhew between him and the goal. “It’s coming” says a bloke on the path near us. He then says it again. There is a belief that if something is said enough it becomes reality and mysteriously this comes true as eventually Wall has a shot from about 10 metres out and several deflections later the ball flies past a startled Ben Mayhew off a nearby team mate and into the net. It’s about twenty past eight now and before half-time Paul volunteers to get us both a pounds worth of tea, which we have our hands cupped around as the players leave the field to encouraging shouts from both sets of supporters. Everybody can be happy and enjoy their tea, because no one is losing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My winter clothing (a pair of wool socks, a pair of football of socks (Portsmouth), a T-shirt, a long sleeve cotton football shirt (Brighton & Hove Albion), a woolly jumper, overcoat, scarf (Clermont Foot) and woolly hat (Ipswich Town)) is either very effective or it can’t be that cold because I don’t go into the clubhouse at half time, but instead stand with Paul and natter to Jimmy who plays guitar and to Keith who is retired and used to work in a bank. The hot tea must help mind.
The second half is soon with us and we wander to the other end of the ground to get a better view of the Coggeshall goals when they go in. Initially, nothing changes and Ely continue to be the better team in midfield, which gives them a chance. The Ely number eleven Josh Sewell is particularly good, despite looking like he may be carrying a few extra pounds, and he dances over and around the ball, dribbling and turning like a footballer should. The portly footballer, always a midfielder or occasionally a full-back is a joy to watch and every team should have one.
Coggeshall are still regularly getting forward however, although some of their supporters seem to have gained a somewhat unattractive sense of entitlement. “Jesus Chr-i-st” is the refrain as defender from the cathedral city team executes a tackle in the penalty area and a Coggeshall forward goes down; a barrage of gor-blimey complaining ensues. Two minutes later however, it’s all forgotten, although not by me obviously, as a cross from the left is deftly but firmly headed past Mayhew by Wall. The goal jogs the collective Coggeshall Town memory and they start to play properly in midfield too. Ten minutes later and Nwachuku cuts back and then unexpectedly hooks a shot from a narrow angle into the far top corner of the goal. He looks very pleased with himself, which in the circumstances is understandable, it was a pretty good goal.
Ely probably won’t come back from this but it doesn’t stop them trying. Coggeshall find it necessary to concede free-kicks to stop them and captain Luke Wilson is cautioned for his trouble by the gangly Mr Byrne, who with his very long neck is a strangely imposing figure as he holds his yellow card aloft. Meanwhile Wilson’s foul and caution cause apoplexy with one of tracky-bottomed members of the Ely management duo , who seems aggrieved that Wilson has not been sent off. In a fit of temper he kicks the woodwork of the dug-out and generally stomps about embarrassingly, displaying a regrettable absence of Corinthian spirit. The referee’s assistants are Kenneth Reeves and Jack Willmore and the bald one in the tight shirt who looks like he is probably Kenneth Reeves goes and has a word.
There is no let up in the competiveness or swearing which becomes more bizarre “Someone fuckin’ do it for me” shouts an unidentified player. It’s as if tonight someone has told the players not to bother about the Eastern Counties League’s “Keep it down for the kids” initiative to curb bad language; after all there are no programmes tonight carrying the reminder to everyone and it’s a school night anyway. Just before half past nine Wall scores a fourth as the ball drops to him conveniently just six metres from goal and he boots it into the roof of the net.
The result is settled but the entertainment continues and there is still time for Ely’s Tom Williams to clatter into a Coggeshall player from behind and get the benefit of Mr Byrne’s extended card bearing right arm. As the assaulted Coggeshall player lies prone on the ground the ball is kicked at him, or it at least hits him, even if not intentionally. “R-e-f, R-e-f, R-e-f” someone whines. “He fuckin’ kicked the ball at him”, “R-e-f , he fuckin’ kicked the ball at him, R-e-f” . I imagine the whiner’s mum had to put up with the same when he was younger. “M-u-m, m-u-m, m-u-m, she pulled a face at me mum” and then his teachers “ M-i-ss, M-i-ss, M-i-ss, can I go to the toilet?” Meanwhile the Ely goalkeeper leaves his goal to join in with the squabbling and do a “Yap, yap, yap” mime with his be-gloved right hand; he looks like he’s brought along a glove puppet and I am reminded of the late Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop.
The ensuing free-kick brings no further goals and with the cold having now penetrated my shoes, both pairs of socks and ascended up them to just below my knees, Mr Byrne’s final whistle is excellent relief. Paul and I turn smartly to the exit, I wave to Jimmy the guitarist and we are heading for Paul’s white Ford and the short trip home. As Paul reverses the Ford onto his driveway we reflect on a fine evening’s entertainment. Might do that again sometime.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ipswich Town 0 Sheffield United 1

The ‘hectic Christmas schedule’ is over and today is the first Saturday of the new year and is therefore the day of the FA Cup third round, once one of the most auspicious dates in the English football calendar. The evil Premier League and the Football Association itself have together destroyed the glory of the FA Cup, but those of us who remember it as it was can stir our memories and pretend, shutting out the horrid reality to enjoy what should be a season highlight. Forty-four years ago I recall, Ipswich played Sheffield United in the FA Cup third round, it was the first FA Cup tie I ever saw and we won 3-2 having been 2-1 down. The wonderfully named Geoff Salmons and the brilliant Tony Currie scored for Sheffield United; ‘magic’ Kevin Beattie won the game with two goals in two minutes just before half-time and super Brian Hamilton got the other one for Town; marvellous. We went on to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the next round.
The draw has in one way been good to Ipswich, giving us a home tie, but sadly it is against a team in the same Division as us, so there is no chance of a ‘Cup upset’ and no road-trip to some far off exotic, provincial town like Fleetwood or Rochdale that Town have never graced.
It is nevertheless with a spring in my step that I set off for the railway station under a pale winter sun, wrapped up against the bitter cold.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The train is three minutes late and I board it along with a bearded man in a khaki hat and camouflage jacket and a teenage boy and girl who are carrying skateboards. In the far corner of the carriage a bearded hippy in a leather jacket drinks from a tin one of those peculiar ‘ciders’ that contain fruit other than apples. The man in the camouflage jacket huddles into another corner as if trying not to be seen, but he clashes horribly with the blue moquette of the train seats.
At Colchester all these passengers leave the train except for the hippy, who once the train OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAleaves the station inexplicably moves to the other end of the carriage leaving me alone with my winter clothing and enthusiasm for the FA Cup. Arriving in Ipswich the afternoon is not as bright, there is a pall of grey cloud. Football supporters spill out of the station and across the bridge opposite, there are three swans swimming in the river below; the tide is high and all is quiet, almost serene.

 

As usual Portman Road is a curious, greasy street cafe peopled with stewards in shapeless coats policing nothing in particular. The search dog looks happy and a man searches amongst the sauce bottles by one of the hot food stands. Programmes are only £2 today, so I buy one and a man on a bike weaves past me.


In St Jude’s Tavern the usual bunch of ageing Town fans sit and discuss football whilst I buy a pint of the Match Day Special (Yeovil Brewery Company’s Star Gazer – £2) and very good it is. I am soon joined by Mick who will be accompanying me to the game. We talk about travelling through Italy, Welsh counties, Donald Trump, Andrew Graham-Dixon and football. Mick gives me the £10 he owes me for the match ticket. After another pint of Star Gazer we head down Portman Road at about twenty minutes to three and into Sir Alf Ramsey Way. There is a short queue at the turnstile for the stand formerly known as the West Stand and once inside Mick remarks on the picturesque coffee stand, painted somewhat bizarrely to look like it’s built of stone.
In the stand we use the facilities and are both amused by the sign on the hand dryers which reads ‘Danger Electricity’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFearless as we are, and confident in our general familiarity with modern electrical appliances we use the dryers nevertheless, despite the jolting, tingling sensation it gives us. It is two minutes to three by the scoreboard clock as we take our seats, but the teams are already lined up and ready to kick-off. Town are of course wearing their traditional blue shirts and white shorts with blue socks, but I am bitterly disappointed, mortified even to see that Sheffield United are not wearing their distinctive red and white stripes with black shorts. Instead, the visiting team sport plain white shirts with black shorts, like some sort of pathetic imitation of Port Vale or Germany. What is wrong with these people? They just keep finding new ways to ruin the game.
The game begins and Ipswich, fielding a more or less full strength team, given that most of the first choice midfield is injured, start quite well. They pass the ball to one another and approach the opposition penalty area. Sadly Sheffield begin to play a little as well and after about ten minutes and it becomes apparent that Town won’t be able to just dismissively swat away their challenge, which is a pity. The game evens up and Ipswich’s early bravado dissipates a little, but it’s okay, we’re playing better than usual because we have the ball as much as the opposition do. Then, at about twenty five past three a bloke called Nathan Thomas shoots from way out into the top corner of the Ipswich net and we’re losing. Crap.
The 1,100 odd Sheffield supporters who have been shouting and singing support for theirOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA team during the preceding minutes now do so with added joy and vigour. The 10,957 odd home supporters haven’t made much noise up until now and still don’t, although their team really needs some encouragement right now. The game dribbles on to half-time as depression sets in with the majority of those in attendance. Mick and I are sat in Block Y which is in the centre of the top tier of the West Stand; normally these are the most expensive seats in the ground, they are padded and they’re brown, not blue. But the people who sit in them are as quiet and miserable as the people I usually sit with in the more modestly appointed Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, they just look better fed and sound more pleased with themselves. A Sheffield player goes down injured and requires treatment, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. I remark to Mick how back in 1974 the North Stand would have been braying “Dig a hole and fuckin’ bury him”, but now they just grumble a bit to each other. People knew how to make their own entertainment back then.
The top tiers of both the North Stand (Sir Bobby Robson Stand) and Churchman’s (Sir Alf Ramsey Stand) are closed to supporters today because of the reduced crowd due to it not

being another bloody boring League match, but an exciting FA Cup game. The club has nevertheless placed stewards amongst the rows of empty North Stand seats, and all around the ground there seem to be a lot of stewards in parts of the ground where they are the only people there. It all helps add to Portman Road’s unique atmosphere.
At half-time I use a different toilet where the hand dryers don’t carry health warnings,

before Mick and I gaze out across the practice pitch beyond a red Citroen H van towards the former municipal power station and tram shed. We marvel that local authorities once built and provided these fabulous things, but don’t comment on the Citroen. The sun is steadily setting behind the cloud and when we return to our seats the pitch is glowing gloriously from the illumination of the floodlights.
The second half begins with some rare vocal encouragement for Town from the North Stand and I realise that the Sheffield United fans must be the first away supporters this season to have witnessed a whole first half without singing “Is this a library?” I can only think they don’t have opera in Sheffield or if they do they don’t much care for Verdi. Perhaps it is a hangover from the Thatcher era when Sheffield was the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire and opera is just too patrician. But full marks to these Blades fans for being more interested in supporting their own team than berating the opposition.
The heady early minutes of the second half fade away like the taste of the half-time beers, snacks and hot beverages and the game descends into dullness. Ipswich don’t exactly play badly, they just don’t create any attempts on goal, which suggests they have misunderstood the point of the game. Sheffield on the other hand do fashion some chances but spurn them. Ipswich captain and centre-half Luke Chambers and goalkeeper Bart Bialkowski seemingly attempt to settle the result with the sorts of misjudgements that one would only expect from the most inept of youths in full-time education, but the Blades are not sharp enough to take advantage.
Apart from the noise from the Sheffielders the game is conducted in near silence, with swathes of seats completely empty it feels like a reserve game. As the contest spirals down towards its miserable conclusion the North Stand at last find a song in their dark hearts, “ We want a shot”, they chant. Having inspired themselves with their own wit they proceed to trawl through their back catalogue of scatological old favourites: “ We’re fucking shit, we’re fucking shit; we’re fucking shit” and “You’re football is shit, you’re football is shit, Mick McCarthy you’re football is shit”. It doesn’t help lighten the mood or motivate the players to do better, I can’t think why.
Oddly, the announcement of four minutes of added on time is greeted with a rare growl of enthusiasm from the crowd, but it makes no difference and there is a sense that people are just clearing their throats for the inevitable booing that greets the final whistle. Ipswich Town are once again out of the FA Cup and after the long descent from the top of the stand Mick and I bid each other farewell. Mick thanks me for getting him a ticket and he means it; he doesn’t see Town play often and although it was a poor game he has enjoyed it. Mick is a very rational man. We go our separate ways and I depart through the club car park and its array of obscenely expensive Ferraris, Mercedes Benz, Audis and Range Rovers. Humming the Buzzcocks’ ‘Fast cars’ I look back on the stadium, the dark shapes of the stands silhouetted in the beams of the floodlights; such beautiful sadness.

 

Coggeshall Town 6 Fakenham Town 1

 

If I had remained completely true to my existential, celebrate-the-mundane self, this piece might be entitled “Halstead Town versus Swaffham Town match postponed due to a frozen pitch” and would be a description of how I came to follow Halstead Town football club on Twitter and discovered that the match I had intended to watch this afternoon would not take place.  It would not have been a long piece and I might even have just written it.  But games get postponed and life goes on and so I looked for another game to watch and the nearest one to my home address is in West Street, Coggeshall, also known as ‘The Crops’, although I will be disappointed to discover that the sign announcing that no longer adorns the side of the changing rooms.

It is a cold, still December day; not bitterly cold, more penetratingly cold, although my hearty optimism and excitement at the thought of going to a match easily quench the thought of getting a little chilly as I set out on the three mile drive from my house.  Diving off the A120 into Coggeshall I motor past the Co-op where later I will buy some corned beef, milk, beer, Muscovado sugar and dairy free chocolate, the latter being for my dairy intolerant spouse. In the centre of town a bus is turning right to head past the ground on its way to Braintree; a pang of guilt hits me; I could have used public transport, there is a bus stop at the bottom of my garden; but then I couldn’t have popped into the Co-op.  Emerging from down-town Coggeshall and its fine collection of timber-framed buildings, the football ground is on the left and I park up at the front of the site taking care not to back my Citroen C3 into an Audi behind me, despite my dislike of ostentatious automobiles.

There seem to be few if any people heading towards Coggeshall Town football ground this afternoon, although it is barely twenty to three, and entering the ship-lap clad wooden turnstile block is a lonely experience.  But the turnstile operator is a cheery fellow and   greets me like a long lost friend, almost to the extent that I want to ask, “Do I know you?”, but that would seem a bit rude and to be honest I have a very poor memory for faces. I join in with the bonhomie therefore and then offer a fresh ten pound note for the admission and a programme (£1). “Are you, are you…….er, normal?” asks my new friend clearly struggling desperately for the right words to ask if I might qualify for the concessionary price.   “Yes, I‘m normal” I say hopefully, understanding that he means I pay the full price (£6).  He apologises, explaining that some people get upset if you ask them for the full price when they qualify for the concession because they are old bastards.  I reply that I understand, and I do.   The bloke at the turnstile goes on to tell me that the clubhouse is open and so is the tea bar at the side; he is not  just a turnstile operator he’s a concierge.

Having paid my entrance money I linger just beyond the turnstile taking in the view of the pitch and countryside beyond from the concrete path that leads to the club house.  It’s a beautiful sight.  I move on and recovering from the disappointment that ‘The Crops’ sign is no longer on the side of the changing rooms I find that the clubhouse has been renovated since I was last here, the exterior having been covered in modish cladding and there are glass doors adorned with the club crest; the interior is updated in similar fashionable materials, there is also an area of decking outside; it all seems a bit like a holiday village rather than a football ground, but then I grew up in the 1960’s and fondly recall pubs having outside toilets, as did my grandmother’s council house.  Stepping outside again I explore the low stand behind the goal and look at the pitch side

advertisement hoardings; it seems that everywhere I go an undertaker sponsors the local club.  I am also impressed that there is an advertisement for a maker of sash windows; no doubt a busy man given Coggeshall’s many old buildings.  I then meet my next door neighbour’s son Sam who is here with a bunch of mates from school; he tells me his dad his here too and he’s not having me on.  Paul my neighbour is enjoying a hot drink and after watching the teams file down on to the pitch and saying hello to a man called James, who plays guitar and used to work for Crouch Vale brewery, I join him as we wait for the first half to begin.   As the teams line up and the coaches occupy their benches, he tells me that one of the track-suited blokes in the dug-out is Ollie Murs, who I understand is a singer, popular with modern day teeny boppers.   I’m sure he is no Johnny Hallyday nevertheless.  Repose en paix Johnny.

Coggeshall kick off the game in the general direction of Braintree, wearing red and black striped shirts with back shorts whilst their guests from faraway Fakenham wear white shirts and blue shorts and have the name Macron above the numbers on the backs, sadly not because they all share the surname of the French president but because the shirts are manufactured by a company called Macron. Coggeshall look very much like the home team, by which I mean they dominate the attacking play, which is no surprise given that they are second in the league table and Fakenham fourth from bottom.  My neighbour tells me that Coggeshall’s star striker gets £300 a week and £50 a goal; I have no way of knowing if this is true, but if it is it doesn’t seem right or fair in a league in which most clubs struggle to attract an average crowd of one-hundred; but apparently he‘s not playing today anyway.

The early part of the game is not brilliant to watch and I am as interested by the sky, the trees,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA an old man poking his head into the tea bar and the lads lined up behind the Fakenham goal as I am by what happens on the pitch; my neighbour refers to the lads behind the goal as ‘herberts’, doubtless because his son is amongst them, although his son’s name is Sam.  Coggeshall ought to score because they clearly have the better players, but at about twenty minutes past three a cross drops at the far post and the ball is side-footed high into the Coggeshall goal net to give ‘The Ghosts’, for that is their nickname, an unexpected lead.  Predictably perhaps the goal shames Coggeshall into action and within five minutes they equalise; an unchallenged header drifting past the static goalkeeper and inside the post.  Thereafter Coggeshall dominate and play some pretty passing football, but ultimately a lack of true team play prevents them from registering the goals their superior ability suggests they should score.  I take a walk around the pitch seeking a different perspective.  Fakenham move forward and from behind the Coggeshall goal I overhear a conversation between Coggeshall’s number two, a big man with blond highlights in his already blond hair and the goalkeeper: “ I nearly put it out for a fucking corner” says the full-back “ I Know, fuck me” Says the goal keeper.   Half-time arrives and the score is 1-1.

I head to the tea-bar and buy a pounds worth of tea in the hope that it will fortify me against the deepening chill.  Where I have not worn my gloves in order to snap photos, my hands now feel like pins are being driven beneath my finger nails.  The cold has recognised that my thermal socks are a worthy opponent and has by-passed them to go up my trouser leg beyond the top of the socks to penetrate my shin bones.  My neighbour eats an enormous sausage roll (£3.50) that Captain Scott would have coveted and the tea possibly saves my life or at least prevents frost-bite.  I check the half-time scores and am disappointed by the news from Middlesbrough that Ipswich are losing 1-0, although the fact that the Danish, former Toulouse striker  Martin Braithwaite scored the goal, softens the blow because I spotted him as a talent a few years ago,

Half-time over, I take up a seat in the low main stand because my back is aching and also because, frankly, I sometimes enjoy my own company.   To my right five blokes in their late sixties or seventies discuss the score. One of them, a jowly man wearing a bobble hat is adamant that the score is 2-1and the others don’t seem confident enough in the memory of their own observations to tell him he is wrong.  Eventually, a young woman wearing large glasses confirms that the score is 1-1 and I back her up.  Oddly, within seconds, Coggeshall score a second goal to really make the score 2-1 and then quickly add a third as Fakenham fail to successfully make the transition from the dressing room to the pitch.

With not an hour gone, the game is as good as won for Coggeshall, nickname The Seedgrowers, which gives the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the disappearing daylight.  A bank of cloud on the horizon denies us a spectacular sunset but instead givesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the appearance of a mountain range looming up in the distance like the Pyrenees over Languedoc.  Whilst waiting for a fourth Coggeshall goal the old blokes behind me discuss the imminent changes to the fifth and sixth steps of the non-league pyramid and I ponder the fact that Coggeshall’s number eleven appears to have one white leg and one black leg.  This is no doubt due to a knee brace, but it leads me to imagine the implications of mixed race people literally being half black and half white.   The number eleven is a busy, energetic little player but embarrasses himself by finding space on the flank and calling to a team mate with the ball “Feed me, feed me”.  I am reminded of the plant in the ”Little Shop of Horrors”, but the number eleven has the good grace to glance into the crowd looking a little embarrassed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbove the glow of the floodlights the sky is midnight blue, but It’s only just gone twenty past four.  Coggeshall add a fourth goal, and then at four-thirty the Seedgrowers’ number ten scores the best goal of the game as he lofts the ball in a graceful arc over the goalkeeper from just outside the penalty area.   Fakenham respond with some substitutions and bring on a large bald man who looks like a Turkish wrestler and two much slimmer and younger players, one of whom looks like his shirt number is the same as his age, fourteen.   Despite there being no doubt about the eventual result, the match remains competitive, which manifests itself in sustained shouts and calls amongst the players which ring out coarsely in the cold winter air.   There are also some very entertaining tackles, which the frighteningly clean-cut referee Mr Farmer rewards with yellow cards, but they give the crowd and players something to bray about.  It’s now five minutes to five and everyone is thinking about going home as a low cross finds the Coggeshall number ten Ross Wall free at the far post and the ball is slammed low into the net, thumping the board behind the goal with the hollow thud more usually heard when the ball misses the goal and hits the advertising hoardings; I find it slightly disorientating, but heck, it’s 6-1 and Ross Wall has a hat-trick.

Mr Farmer soon blows his whistle for the last time today and a sated crowd of 108 disperse into the club house or out into the car park and the early evening.  Having zig-zagged my way through the emptying seats of the stand I pause and speak again with Jimmy who is now with his wife, and then head for the Co-op.