Long Melford 2 Newmarket Town 1

Long Melford is a big village, one of the most appealing and attractive in Suffolk according to Suffolk Tourist Guide.com with, according to Wikipedia, a population in 2011 of some 3,518. Melford, as it is known locally, is just a few miles north of Sudbury, it used to have a railway but since 1967 and the evil Doctor Beeching, the line now terminates at Sudbury. If you want to get to Long Melford by public transport therefore, it is necessary get the No 753 bus from Sudbury to Bury St Edmunds. Like the train service from Marks Tey, the bus service runs hourly, but as this is England the trains and buses are not properly co-ordinated; the train to Sudbury arrives at 13.08 and the bus conveniently leaves at 13:30, reaching Long Melford Post Office ten minutes later. On the return journey however, the 754 bus passes Long Melford Post Office at 17:11 and arrives in Sudbury four minutes after the train has left, at 17:20, so there is nearly an hour’s wait in Sudbury for the next train at 18:16.
Today however, I am driving to Long Melford’s Stoneylands ground because I have agreed to give a lift to a man called Roly, who lives in nearby Borley. I happen to know Roly’s house is within walking distance of Stoneylands because Roly has walked it before, but I was in generous mood when we discussed by text message going to the game and very slightly inebriated.
It is a grey, still, cold winter’s day as I make the twisting, undulating drive through Chappel, home of the East Anglian Railway Museum, Mount Bures with its excellent Thatchers Arms pub, Bures with its large empty bus depot, the edge of Cornard and through busy Sudbury before taking the turn towards the wonderfully named Foxearth. In Borley, Roly’s Victorian cottage home is a scene of domestic bliss; his partner Sarah reclines on the sofa with their young baby Lottie, whilst Penny the dog rolls over at my feet and wriggles excitedly. But I don’t linger, there is football to go to and within

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minutes Roly and I are bouncing down the pitted, puddle filled private road that leads to the football ground and my Citroen C3 gets a taste of what it must have been like to be a Citroen 2CV carrying a tray of eggs across a field somewhere in the Auvergne.
Getting parked takes longer than it should as the man in the car in front seems to want to park as close to the entrance as possible, which means reversing gingerly and at first unsuccessfully into a narrow space despite the presence of acres of car free space just 15metres away. There is an air of the village hall about Melford’s ground from the

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outside and indeed the club’s nickname is The Villagers. There is no turnstile as such here, just a few metal and plastic barriers herding would be spectators towards a kiosk of the type that used to be at the exit to municipal car parks back before the days of Pay & Display, when a bloke stamped your ticket and took your money as you left. There is a short queue to get in because it takes the

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grey-haired woman in the kiosk a little while to root around for change from a plastic tub. A board on the side of the kiosk announces the price of admission, but in reality it’s just a green smudge of felt tip pen; fortunately I’ve done my homework so I know from the club website that admission is £7 including a programme.
Once inside, Roly buys me a bottle of Nethergate IPA (£3.50) in the bar, which is the least he could do after I went out of my way to drive him here, selfishly he gets one for himself too. We drink bottled beer because sadly the hand pump on the bar is covered over with a tea towel, which is very disappointing. The woman serving is struggling for change and asks rhetorically how she is expected to run a bar with a float of just four pound coins. I empty my pockets and find just short of ten pounds in change, which she is happy to exchange for a ten pound note; I’m 40p up!

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We sup our beer in the company of other middle-aged and older men stood around tables as men do in bars, but soon we are aware that the teams are coming on to the pitch. We leave the clubhouse just as the line-up for the obligatory handshakes is dissolving away into the two halves of the pitch. Newmarket Town are the visiting team today and they sit seventh with 53 points from 31 games in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League table; Melford are 16th with 39 points from 32 games. It’s a clash between a village known for antique shops and a town known for horse racing. I suspect that watching local football puts us firmly outside those two spheres of activity although weirdly I think, there is an advert in the match programme for “Wealth management advice”, whatever happened to plain old financial advice?
The 1970’s pop blaring from the tannoy stops abruptly as Newmarket, nicknamed predictably as the Jockeys, kick off towards the dull, suburban estate-style houses at the Sudbury end of the ground. Newmarket’s club colours are yellow and blue, but for some unknown reason today they are wearing a rather ugly all red kit with white stripes below the chest, as if they’d brushed their teeth before coming on and dribbled Colgate down their stomachs. Melford play towards the dilapidated wooden fence, shelter and open fields to the north, wearing their signature black and white striped shirts and black shorts. Melford’s kit is embellished with name of the excellent Nethergate Brewery, who have newly built premises at the entrance to the village by the turning to Foxearth.
Newmarket start well, passing neatly and getting forward, but Melford suddenly win possession, breakaway and have a shot, and so it continues. Both teams have a lot of players with beards. Newmarket have the ball most of the time, but Melford spring the occasional surprise, getting the ball to their number seven Hassan Ally who is always in the right place, but never quite makes the final telling cross or pass. The Melford cross bar is hit by a header and then at about twenty five past three a long ball to the right is chased down by Lewis Whitehead who shoots across the Melford goal keeper; Newmarket lead and a number of middle aged men cheer unexpectedly. No one in the crowd is wearing club colours but for a Bedlington Terrier in a red coat, so the presence of away supporters is a surprise.

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Half-time arrives and Newmarket would seem to be in control. Roly has already treated

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or ‘tret’ himself, as he would say in his quaint rustic dialect, to a cheeseburger (£3.00) from the food bar which the programme tells us is called Deb’s Diner. The concluding paragraph of the joint managers’ column in the programme says “Whatever happens, we hope you enjoy your afternoon here in Long Melford, get yourself something to eat and drink…” and Roly has clearly taken note. I don’t ask him if it was an early tea or late lunch or just a celebration that his NHS health check during the week had shown him to be a well man, clearly capable of absorbing the ill-effects of junk food, for the time being at least.
We go into the club house again for two more bottles of Nethergate IPA and to catch the half-time scores on the TV and are much heartened that Ipswich are winning 2-0 at Sunderland. The club house is recently refurbished after the roof fell-in last year and there are several marvellous photos on the walls of past achievements such as Suffolk Senior Cup wins. A trophy cabinet contains a couple of old brown leather footballs which impress me more than the cups and trinkets. When there is a cosy clubhouse, half time is never long enough and it’s soon time to re-join the rows of middle-aged men hanging over the rail around the pitch.

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The second half is not the same as the first, roles are reversed and it is the Villagers who more frequently have the ball at their feet whilst the Jockeys chase about in vain and are pushed back into their own half. For the second half we stand on the opposite side of the ground to the clubhouse near the dugouts and in front of a coniferous hedge, carefullyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and neatly cut into a modernist architectural shape; behind the hedge a close-board wooden fence is in places nailed to its thick trunks. In its neatness the hedge is only matched by the Newmarket goalkeeper’s haircut, but is less contrived. There is more noise on this side of the pitch as the coaches of both team teams shout and urge their teams on.
As the game continues Melford dominate more and more and Newmarket are getting tetchy. Whilst there were hardly any fouls at all in the first half, tiredness and desperation and swearing are introducing a new kind of entertainment. A Melford player goes down and the Newmarket number two complains to Mr Pope and anyone who is listening, because Mr Pope isn’t, that Melford have some right prima donnas, although he pronounces it pre-madonnas. Another foul and a free-kick on the edge of the box and then another. Then, whilst Roly is in the toilet, Melford win a third free-kick. Despite referee Mr Pope taking time to book the perpetrator, Roly still isn’t back by the time Ross Waugh scores, apparently with a header, although to be honest it was one of those messy goals and I had lost track of the ball.
There are only eight minutes left and the blokes in trackie bottoms and sports coats onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the touchline are visibly tense. The Melford number ten Scott Sloots is hurt and is substituted; as he hobbles off the pitch one or two of his own players seem to be complaining that he is taking his time. “Come on ref, make him get off quicker” I hear. I hadn’t previously realised that there was a point where team togetherness and the will to win would clash. But nevertheless, Melford continue to push forward and in the final minute of injury time there is a run down the left, the ball’s in the box, a shot is blocked and Hassan Ally is in the right place to score from the rebound. Rarely have I seen such elation from a team sixteenth in the league to a winning goal; both coaches burst onto the pitch to celebrate with the team as if this was a most crucial victory. I’m all in favour of making your own fun but this seems to be going a bit far.
To his credit, Mr Pope the referee makes nothing of the exuberance of the Melford coaches and in no time at all the match is over. Roly and I stroll round to the club house to make final use of the toilet before applauding the Melford team from the pitch. It’s been a very entertaining game with a dramatic finale and I’ve made 40p.

Ipswich Town 1 Leeds United 0

Today sees the fourth game at Portman Road in 26 days, it’s as if Town don’t play away from home anymore and I’m getting a bit fed up with it to be honest and hanker after a change of scenery. The wide open spaces of non-league football are ever more attractive compared to the claustrophobic pall of gloom that hangs around Portman Road and seemingly seeps from the pores of so many home ‘supporters’.
But what’s this? Today Ipswich are playing Leeds United and I shall transport myself back to the 1970’s with a scarf tied round my wrist, double denim, feather cut and platforms. In my mind Leeds United embody the 1970’s, that awful but grimly fascinating and rather marvellous decade, and I love to see a game against Leeds United because of that, and also Leeds are guaranteed to bring a good number of supporters who are equally guaranteed to make a noise and create that rare thing at Portman Road, a bit of atmosphere and the sensation that there is a football match taking place.
It is a dull, grey January day as I head for the railway station past flat, featureless, cold

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fields above which a few seagulls circle. At the station I meet Roly who has travelled from Borley and looks slightly disagreeable as he clutches a paper cup of coffee. He admits to having eaten a bacon butty from the station buffet and says that he only feels marginally happier than if he hadn’t eaten it, which for a greedy man like Roly means it was not a good bacon butty.

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The train is three minutes late due to ‘congestion’ attributed to engineering works.
Once on the train we discuss grandmothers sucking eggs and how the use of powdered egg affected this during World War Two; we also discuss the relative merits of the minute’s silence or applause at the start of football matches. I long to be trusted to be respectfully silent in a dead person’s honour as football fans used to be, but Roly points out that there is now an unwritten etiquette of applauses for individuals who have shuffled off the mortal coil naturally, whilst armistice day and terrorist attacks and the like attract a silence. We agree that an applause in the wake of a terrorist attack might be misconstrued, but it nevertheless makes us laugh.

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Arriving in Ipswich we are greeted by a posse of police on the station forecourt. The Station Hotel opposite looks packed, there is condensation on the windows, bums on the window sills and a crowd of Leeds fans occupy the car park and garden.

 

 

It’s not the prettiest riverside setting, but probably makes these Yorkshiremen feel at home, like they’re down by t’canal. Roly and I stroll on and the Leeds United team bus passes us heading towards Portman Road, which is the scene of a military operation. Police vans partly

block the road whilst policemen are strung across the road restricting the easy flow of people along the street. The Leeds team bus has disappeared into the yard behind the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and a group of people clamour around the gates, presumably seeking a glimpse of Leeds players, or maybe they’re bus spotters. We walk on, a group of late-middle aged men meet beneath the hollow gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey’s insouciant statue.

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In St Jude’s Tavern we each drink a pint of today’s ‘match day special’ (£2 a go) which is Elgood’s Festive Feelgood; we talk football and in particular of the myriad of players who have appeared for Town in the last twenty years or so. We speak of Kevin Ellis, who made one appearance against Arsenal in the Premier League 1995, remained at the club for two more years before going to King’s Lynn and never playing another game for a League club. We both have another pint of the ‘match day special’ and then I have a half of St Jude’s Hazelnut Stout (£1.80), partly because I feel guilty about only drinking the cheap beer. It’s only 2.30pm, but Roly is eager to leave so that he can buy a pie; he is probably not obese, but he could easily become so. We part in Portman Road because Roly’s seat is in the posh seats in the East of England Co-operative Stand, where by rights he should get divvy on his pie.
In Portman Road the police are hard at work controlling the crowd for whatever reason, which means not allowing passage behind the Cobbold Stand for home fans and sending us all around the ground and back up Princes Street to get access to the Sir Alf Ramsey

stand. I don’t mind; this scenic route, it makes a change. I buy a programme from a girl in a kiosk on the corner of Alderman Road and pass by the main entrance to the club as a massive black Bentley sweeps through the gate.
By the time I’ve enjoyed my walkabout and the street theatre that the Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary are providing today it’s nearly time for kick –off and the teams are soon on the pitch when I take up my seat. Before the game today there is a minute’s applause for Ted Phillips, one of the greatest players ever to represent Town, who died this week at the age of eighty-four. Ted was in the teams that won the Third Division South, Second Division and First Division championships and in total scored 181 goals in 295 games. We’ll probably not see his like again, definitely not for the twenty-odd quid a week he got paid. I would happily stand and applaud him all afternoon and am very disappointed that his picture is not on the cover of the programme.
The game kicks off and is closely fought, but this is not a Leeds United I recognise, this team is the anti-thesis of the renowned Lilywhites, this team are wearing an all-black kit,

they could be anyone; a team of referees. Leeds United in all-black, it’s just wrong. But happily the Leeds fans are still the same; loud, raucous, foul-mouthed and very heavily stewarded. There are even police inside the stadium today, although strangely they seem to be watching the home fans. Without the Leeds fans this game would be dull like all the others; they have the whole of the Cobbold Stand today and have displaced Ipswich season ticket holders, but it was the right thing to do, it has made this game special and if Ipswich hasn’t got supporters interested in filling the ground and creating a match atmosphere, then let someone in who has. Nevertheless, there are only 18,638 of us here today and that is despite the addition of visiting supporters of Fortuna Dusseldorf who have adopted Town as their English team; we seem to have lost nearly 20,000 people somewhere since Town met Leeds in the FA Cup sixth round in 1975.
There are a lot of fouls in this game, a nostalgic nod to ‘dirty Leeds’ of the 1970’s perhaps, but the fouls are mostly clumsy rather than cynical, niggly or vicious although both teams’ physios are called upon to treat the wounded. Like most Second Division matches nowadays it’s a bit of a mess, as once again levels of effort and running exceed levels of skill. I nevertheless think I see Town captain Luke Chambers quite artfully control the ball and pass it accurately and then look rather pleased with himself; it may just have been a look of surprise however.
It’s not a bad game, but the presence of the noisy away support is carrying it somewhat. It takes until the 19th minute for the first decent shot on goal and this is followed by the news from the Leeds fans through the medium of “Cwm Rhondda” that “your support is fucking shit”. It’s taken them a while to realise this but they got there in the end. It doesn’t look like either team is particularly likely to score and then in the 37th minute the odds on a goal shift in Town’s favour as Leeds United’s Eunan O’Kane is sent off by referee Robert Jones for an off the ball assault (headbutt)on Town’s Jonas Knudsen.

 

Everyone loves a sending off, if it’s not one of their own players. Kane must walk the full length of the pitch and a Leeds fan set off a fire cracker, the loud crack and the smoke just add to the drama and excitement.

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After four minutes of time added on for injuries and sundry stoppages, during whichOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Town’s on-loan Kosovan Bersant Celina hits a post with a shot, the imposing Mr Roberts, who likes to stand with his hands on his hips, blows his whistle for half-time. I head down to the concourse and devour a piece of left-over Christmas cake that I had brought with me in lieu of thebacon butties or pies that others might eat to see them through the afternoon. I gaze up at the TV set delivering the half-time scores and first half stats, which are clearly wrong. I learn that I could buy a hospitality package for £35 plus VAT. I look at the programme and am impressed by the diversity of the Leeds squad with players from fifteen different countries. Ipswich players come from just seven countries, and one of them is Wales. The Leeds squad also has some fine surnames, my favourites being Roofe and Grot although Borthwick-Jackson and Peacock-Farrell also deserve a mention. Inside the programme there is a tribute to Ted Phillips, but if as the tribute says he is a legend, and he is, it should probably run to several pages, not just two. Also in the programme is the usual piece from club captain Luke Chambers. Luke is in philosophical mood today and amongst other nuggets says “I think football stadiums in general have become places where supporters can vent their frustrations over 90 minutes, sometimes that frustration comes from life as much as football. You see it everywhere now ”. It’s a very funny read.
For the second half I decide to sit with Pat from the Clacton-On-sea branch of the supporters club because the people near where Pat sits seem to have a bit more life in them, although they don’t really sing either, and at least when I do they laugh. The players and officials return to the pitch and Mr Roberts crosses himself, which is pure showmanship and not really becoming of a referee, but hey-ho.
The Leeds fans are still in good voice and treat the home crowd to renditions of “We all love Leeds and Leeds and Leeds” to the tune of ‘The Dambusters’ March’. Soon afterwards the chant of choice switches to “ We are Leeds, We are Leeds, We are Leeds” to no particular tune at all and then “When the Whites (sic) Go Marching In”, forgetting that their team is wearing all black, which may be why they previously had to remind themselves that they are Leeds.
Ipswich’s superiority in numbers isn’t making very much difference, although they are having more possession than usual and Leeds are not looking very likely to score. It will take a moment of very inept play or one of special skill to get a goal from this game and surprisingly it’s the latter that comes to pass in the 67th minute. Bursant Celina receives the ball from a throw-in on the left; he drifts in towards the centre of the field running sideways like a stray dog before suddenly unleashing a beautiful, gently dipping, but powerful shot into the corner of the Leeds goal. It truly is a thing of beauty, mostly because it is scored by someone in an Ipswich shirt.
Ipswich should really press home their advantage even more now, but they don’t, although they are the dominant team.

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At the side of the pitch the managers and coaches are animated, the Spanish Leeds manager looking sharp in a smart, tailored coat, Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor looking like a couple of scallies in anoraks and tracky bottoms.

 

A Leeds substitute comes on with his socks turned up over his knees so that he is in black from neck to toe like a mime artist, but for some reason he also reminds me of Papa Lazarou in League of Gentlemen. The Leeds players become frustrated, particularly their Swedish centre-half Pontus Jansson who deserves an award for succeeding in getting the bulk of the North Stand lower tier to sing loudly in unison; to the tune of Cwm Rhondda, they chant, even if it is just to ask “Who the fuck, Who the fuck, Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you?” and then, after presumably consulting their programmes to answer their own curiosity “Jansson, Jansson, you’re a cunt”. The upshot is that Jansson is booked by Mr Roberts, possibly for having inspired the putting of rude words to a hymn tune, but more probably for persistent fouling.
There is not long left but Town have to hold out against a late Leeds onslaught in which goalkeeper Dean Gerken saves the day with a fine dive to his right to parry away a shot from Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who is German. Finally however, Mr Roberts calls time; it has been an enjoyable afternoon for several reasons; Ipswich have won, the goal was spectacular and the opposition have had a player sent off, but also because of the presence of the Leeds fans who have created an atmosphere usually so sadly lacking at Portman Road. I am look forward to next season’s game already, if I can survive all the dreary ones in between.

 

AFC Sudbury 1 Canvey Island 1

The football season starts way too early, but rumour has it that every cloud has a silver lining and indeed in my admittedly narrow and miserably limited experience there is much joy to be found in a trip out on a sunny summer’s afternoon to watch a non-league football match. Today is such a day and so I set out for Marks Tey station to catch the knackered bus on rails that serves as the train to Sudbury. It is gloriously warm and a gentle, buffeting breeze ruffles my hair as if to say “Have a good time, you young scamp”. Flat-bottomed cumulus recede into the far distance over droopy-eared fields of goldenOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA cereal; leafy boughs sway softly and the wind through the trees seems to whisper “Here we go, here we go, here we go.”
Clutching my rail tickets (Marks Tey to Sudbury and back £4.05 with a Gold Card) I board the train. The service to Sudbury is hourly leaving at a minute past the hour; it’s about five to one. I choose a seat by a window. As the train departs the straining diesel roars frantically but eventually settles into a measured throb as cruising speed is reached and we trundle along between sun-dappled embankments and under red-brick bridges that carry nothing more than farm tractors over the single-track line. The train stops at Wakes Colne for the East Anglian Railway MuseumOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (recommended) and at Bures which has a country bus-shelterOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (or is it a garden shed? ) as a station building. After twenty minutes of rural rambling the train arrives in Sudbury.
From the station there is a choice of routes to AFC Sudbury’s home, either through the medieval streets of the town with its half-timbered and handsome Georgian buildings or along the track-bed over the old railway line,

which used to lead onto Long Melford and Bury St Edmunds before it was chopped by ‘that c*nt Dr Beeching’, which was perhaps the original working title of the Croft and Perry BBC tv sitcom “Oh Dr Beeching!”. I take the track-bed or Gainsborough Trail as it is predictably called by the District Council keen to promote the associations with the portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough born in the town in 1727.

 

The trail is a part of the South Suffolk cycle route and is popular with ramblers and dog walkers and just with people walking about in Sudbury. I pass a tattooed man with two Staffordshire Bull terriers, “Alright mate“ he says as if he knows me. ”Yep, alright mate” I reply, as if I know him. A gaggle of children and their blonde mother follow behind.

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The path is lined with tall trees and crosses over gulleys and streams that flow into the River Stour glimpses of which are seen through the trees. On water meadows brown cows graze and on the river swans and ducks paddle idly by. I feel like I’m in a poem by John Betjeman.
The walk along the trail takes fifteen minutes if you don’t dawdle and then it’s necessary to leave the path, stepping down the embankment onto Kings Marsh.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Marsh is a bit soggy in places today, probably because it’s a marsh and also due to the very heavy rain in mid-week; I get a soggy foot, but heck I’m wearing sandals so it’s pleasantly cooling OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfor my dusty feet; more importantly I don’t step in any cowpats. Off the marsh I turn right onto the lane that takes me to Kings Marsh Stadium or the Wardale Williams stadium as the local opticians of that name have paid for it to be called; a large sign nailed to a tree that suggests I might stumble across some tortoises or sloths. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Outside the ground there are community facilities and I am tempted to brush up on my Lindy Hop or learn a few sweet new moves at the dance class, but I head on to the turnstiles. It costs £10 to get in which is £4 more than it costs on average to watch football at just one step below in the league ladder (Eastern Counties Premier League) although the higher up teams do have to travel further so the overheads increase and it’s likely the players are paid more too, but it’s nevertheless a 67% leap in price. I buy a programme for £2 and head to the bar and club shop, which is a cabinet in the corner. At the bar I have a pint of Nethergate Suffolk County bitter (£3.30) and I wonder why can’t all football clubs, particularly the bigger ones like Ipswich Town and Colchester United offer a decent hand-pulled beer produced by a local brewer that isn’t the brewing monster that is Greene King.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I stand by the pitch with my beer and the souvenir I purchased from the club shop (£1) and bask in the afternoon sun as the players go through their warm-up routines. I pause and reflect on what a beautiful day it is and upon the glorious arboreal back drop to this stadium and beautifully bucolic nature of my journey here. I am jolted from my reverie as I am joined by a friend and colleague who has walked from nearby Borley, he buys me another pint of Suffolk County bitter and has an interesting conversation with the barman:
-“ Two pints of Suffolk County please”
“One?”
-“No, two please”. The pints are drawn and the barman stands them on the bar before asking
“Three pints?” The smart-arse answer might have been, “No, two Babychams a Mackeson and a Noilly Prat”.
We stand just outside the clubhouse and bar leaning on a metal barrier, supping our beers from plastic cups. A succession of pot-bellied, middle aged blokes walk back and forth in front of us between the food stand and the seats. The teams come on to the field and after a minute’s applause for a young player killed in a car accident during the week, the game begins.
This is the first match of the season for Sudbury and their visitors Canvey Island in the Bostik North Division, into which both clubs were relegated at the end of last season; presumably both clubs will be hoping they don’t stick around in this league for long. Sudbury wear their customary yellow shirts and blue shorts whilst Canvey ratherOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA inconveniently I thought wear blue shirts and yellow shorts. It doesn’t make for an ideal composition visually but surprisingly the kits don’t really clash although I think Thomas Gainsborough would have had something to say about it.
The ball pings back and forth as players take it in turns to kick it and it’s fairly entertaining, although not of particularly high quality and effort and running mostly take precedence over skill. Canvey are spending more time in the Sudbury half of the artificial pitch from which clouds of little black rubber balls fly or are scuffed when the ball is kicked; there is a faint rubbery smell at times which doesn’t compare well to the smell of turf, but otherwise you wouldn’t really notice that the pitch wasn’t ‘real’. A small knot of Canvey fans are gathered behind the goal into which their team is kicking and they sing a couple of tunes more usually heard at French Ligue 1 and 2 matches, although sadly not in French. One fan waves a large blue and yellow flag. Sudbury have no ‘ultras’ of their own.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Having hit the cross bar twice in quick succession and survived Sudbury hitting a post, Isle de Canvey take the lead with a fine volley into the top corner of the goal from their centre-forward George Sykes, who for at least two spectators in the ground immediately conjures up thoughts of Bill, Eric and Hatti Jacques. Canvey are still leading when half-time arrives and with the last shrill note of referee Mr George Laflin’s whistle still ringing in my ears I turn to make the short journey to the bar for another two pints of the very fine Nethergate Suffolk County bitter. Before all the players have left the pitch I have returned to our vantage point with two foaming plastic cups of beer.
With Sudbury’s Thomas Gainsborough connection, I am surprised looking around the ground that there is a food kiosk on the far side of the ground with name Turner painted upon it, and my friend and I muse upon what food by the artist JMW Turner would look like; we decide upon smears of tomato sauce and mushy peas resembling a blurry sailing ship. Our eyes are also attracted to an advert board for ‘Paul Pleasants, Entertainer’OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA with its wacky rainbow background. What an apposite name for a family entertainer Paul Pleasants is; alliterative too, if it’s real that is and his actual name isn’t something like Barry Bastard.
Feeling enriched by the variety of human experience we are ready for the second half, one in which Sudbury take the upper hand and eventually equalise as a free-kick evades a defensive wall of Canvey Islanders and squeezes beyond the despairing reach of their goalkeeper. The Sudbury players celebrate with abandon. A Canvey fan bawls something incomprehensible which sounds like he’s trying to sell newspapers.
The sun beats down, we drain our beer, we laugh, we cheer and then the final whistle is blown by George Laflin for whom, as referee, we have nothing but respect. It has been a fabulous afternoon of sunshine, warmth, trees, puffy white clouds, pastoral landscapes, beer and football. My only regret is that Thomas Gainsborough could not have been here to capture its glory in oils and have a pint of Suffolk County bitter with us. Summer football at AFC Sudbury is to be recommended, one day I will may be see if football at AFC Sudbury on a dank December day is as much fun.

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