Portsmouth 2 Ipswich Town 1

Today is the United Nations International Day of Happiness.  Looking out of my kitchen window I see that the International Day of Happiness is dull; the sky is grey and overcast; worse still, this afternoon’s match between Ipswich Town and Portsmouth at Fratton Park kicks off at one o’clock, when I should happily be enjoying lunch or a pre-match pint.   More pleasingly, because my wife Paulene supports Portsmouth, we shall therefore be watching the game together.  Over a cup of coffee at breakfast I ask her if she is excited about today’s game.  She confesses that she is not.  Portsmouth’s recent form has been as poor, even worse than Ipswich Town’s.  The appointment of a new manager has not inspired her, Paulene cannot get excited about an appointment known as “The Cowleys”, and the fact that they managed Braintree Town seems to trouble her.

The early kick-off will probably spoil my whole day,  it did when Town played at Gillingham a fortnight ago,  although the final score played a part in that.   Football needs to be at 3 o’clock, so at least I get a decent few hours to enjoy in the morning.  Sensing that my negative feeling towards today’s fixture mean that I’m not really entering into the spirit of United Nations International Day of Happiness I try to spread some joy and write a birthday card for my step-son’s mother-in-law’s partner Larry,  who is eighty years old today.  Happy Birthday Larry.  Larry is not really much of a football fan, he’s more into Far Eastern philosophy, although we did once go and watch Coggeshall Town play Witham Town in the preliminary round of the FA Cup.

With the Portsmouth v Ipswich fixture being our household ‘derby’ I am tuning into the ifollow to watch an away game for the first time.  This means that I shall not be able to listen to my usual source of knowledge and insight, the commentary of Brenner Woolley and Mick Mills from BBC Radio Suffolk, but will instead be relying upon Brenner’s equivalent at BBC Radio Solent, a radio station that I like to think broadcasts from the sea bed and therefore has presenters who look like the cast of Gerry Anderson’s Stingray.  We log-in just in time to hear the puppet presenters giving their predictions for this afternoon’s final score.  “Ipswich are terrified of the ball” announces someone, I don’t know who, as they justify why Pompey will win.  The predictions are 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0 to Pompey. 

Brenner’s underwater equivalent announces that this afternoon’s match sees the start of “… a new era against a team that will provide memories of an old one”.  Different club, different radio station, same old cliché-ridden, hackneyed drivel I think to myself.   The commentator’s side-kick is introduced as former Pompey striker Guy Whittingham, “Danny Cowley is an experienced man” says Guy, “so is Nicky” he adds as an obvious afterthought.  Any bloke over forty who isn’t a man because of recent gender re-assignment could probably be said to be “an experienced man” though.

The game begins and I learn that the aquatic version of Brenner is called Andrew Moon; he is soon describing Ipswich’s third choice shirt. “It’s what I am going to call maroon shirts with dark red stripes” says Moon, revealing straightaway that he is either colour blind or has no words in his vocabulary for dark blue.  Much like Brenner would, he soon proceeds to tell us that “Paul Cook is watching the game very casually, with a mug of coffee in his hand”.  Very quickly it is apparent that Moon has the same book of commentator’s words and phrases as Brenner.  “Naylor goes to ground” he says as the Pompey number four scurries into a burrow.  Minutes later Town earn a free-kick close to where the touchline meets the by-line; it’s“ a glorified corner” according to Moon; it’s not a phrase I’ve yet heard trip from the mouth of Brenner,  but it would be worthy of him.

Fourteen minutes pass.  “No significant opportunities at either end as yet” says Moon.  Four minutes later Jack Whatmough fouls the oddly named Keanan Bennetts. “Surely, has to be a booking” says Moon showing admirable impartiality and honesty worthy of the BBC and its Reithian values.   Craig McGillivray makes a decent flying save from little Alan Judges resultant free-kick.  Moon emulates Brenner by mentioning the weather, “Spring not quite here yet” he adds, giving closure to the subject.

Nearly half an hour has gone and the oddly named Keanan Bennetts wins the game’s first corner, excluding ‘glorified corners’ that is.  Four minutes later a fine passing move ends with an exquisite through ball from Gwion Edwards, which sends James Norwood into the Pompey penalty area where slightly unexpectedly he lashes the ball into the far corner of the net past a motionless McGillivray. Town lead 1-0, “… probably deservedly so, on play” says Guy Whittingham grudgingly and weirdly implying that there is another means to assess who deserves to be winning other than ‘play’.  I suspect the ‘Whittingham method’ may be based on which team is wearing shirts with a crescent moon and star badge or contains players with the surnames Harness, Cannon and Raggett.

As I boldly begin to enjoy the game and imagine the name of Ipswich Town proudly ensconced in fifth place in the third division table Pompey win a corner.  The ball narrowly avoids the head of Toto Nsiala at the near post before Pompey’s Tom Naylor heads the ball onto the far post which in turn diverts it into the goal.  “Naylor scores the first goal of the Danny Cowley era” says Moon moronically in the style of some hack reporter.  “Portsmouth have a leveller they probably don’t quite deserve” he adds more intelligently.  Half-time arrives shortly after Pompey’s Ronan Curtis shoots wide with Luke Chambers struggling to get back and defend.

Half-time is busy.  A parcel is delivered by Hermes, or as I childishly call them Herpes.  It reminds me of an aircraft carrier-related joke which seems appropriate on a day when we are playing Portsmouth.  A man tells his friend he has Hermes. “You mean Herpes” says the friend. “No, Hermes” says the man “I’m a carrier”.   I pour myself a glass of Westmalle Dubbel Trappist beer, in part to celebrate James Norwood’s excellent goal and in part to blot out the disappointment of Pompey’s equaliser. I make Paulene a mug of hot chocolate.

Ipswich get first go with the ball when the game re-starts and are attacking the Milton End, where in normal times their followers would be sat, glumly supporting their team.  Town have two shots on goal within the first couple of minutes.  Five minutes into the half Pompey earn another corner, which Town fail to deal with comfortably as a Pompey player wins the initial header. The ball is eventually claimed by Tomas Holy.  Ronan Curtis becomes the second Pompey player to be booked, following a foul on Teddy Bishop.  “Probably the correct call” says Moon again showing the sort of fair, honest commentary you’d expect of the BBC, but for which Brenner Woolley would be criticised for being biased in favour of the opposition.  After the delay for the booking, little Alan Judge prepares to take the free-kick.  “The referee says off you go” is Moon’s slightly weird, imagined rendition of the conversation that precedes it.  

The second half is not as good as the first from an Ipswich perspective. We are no longer the better team as Pompey dominate down their left, and I am now beginning to miss the wise and plentiful words of Mick Mills who would have explained where Town are going wrong if this were a home game.  Guy Whittingham is no more a fitting substitute co-commentator for Mick than John Stirk was a fitting substitute full-back.  Andrew Moon however, is showing that he has all the peculiar commentating skills of our own Brenner Woolley as he speaks of a Pompey player “rubbing his face in frustration” (as you do) and “Portsmouth picking up the pieces in the shape of Naylor” which has my mind’s eye working overtime and imagining what a football match painted by Pablo Picasso would look like.  Moon then goes for his hat-trick of facile references to the perceived ‘new era’ with “The first substitution of the Cowley era” as Ben Close replaces Andy Cannon, moments after the referee creates his own hat-trick of Pompey bookings  with Andy Cannon’s name.

For Town Armando Dobra replaces the oddly-named Keanan Bennetts. James Norwood and Ronan Curtis argue like schoolgirls,  but according to Moon “Neither of them is stupid enough to be lulled in to doing something”.    It’s an odd bit of commentary that barely makes sense in relation to the on-screen pictures and there is every possibility that Moon means provoked instead of lulled, unless perhaps what looks like an exchange of verbal abuse is in fact the two players singing softly to one another .

More than once Moon refers to Tomas Holy as the “big Czech”, as if his nationality mattered,  and then with 20 minutes gone Town win their first corner of the second half.  Presumably having found a free page in his notebook, Mr Young turns his attention to Ipswich and books Gwion Edwards and Luke Chambers in quick succession.  Moon tells us that “A loud, gruff, Scouse accent shouts for the touchline”, which is quite reassuring for Town fans as long as Paul Cook is coaching the Town players and not just giving us his version of “Twist and Shout”.

Seventy one minutes have passed and Teddy Bishop becomes the equaliser in Mr Young’s private booking competition before we hear Moon excitedly say “…and Marcus Harness has turned it around for Portsmouth” and my heart sinks as  I watch Harness get two shots on goal, the second one of which tickles the net.  “Cowley’s certainly injected something into this team” continues Moon raising hopes that Town will be awarded the points when the Pompey players fail the post-match drugs test.  

Town are never in the game again.  “Step up” shouts a Cowley from the touchline; Pompey do, Town don’t.   Kayden Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young replace little Alan Judge and James Wilson, but to no avail.  Pompey’s Michael Jacobs edges the booking competition in Pompey’s favour.  With less than two minutes of normal time remaining Troy Parrott replaces Teddy Bishop.  Paulene answers the front door because Town have a free-kick and I refuse to leave the sofa; it’s my step -son calling to collect Larry’s birthday card.  The free-kick produces nothing.   Tomas Holy saves a header from James Bolton as another Pompey corner troubles the Town defence.  Five minutes of added on time raise my hopes “Five minutes!” exclaims Paulene “where did they get that from?”

It doesn’t matter where the five minutes came from, because it goes and the game ends. Ipswich lose, Pompey win. There is no mention of any Pompey players failing the drugs test.  Paulene apologises for my disappointment.  We are told that this is the first time Pompey have come back to win after going a goal behind in nearly two years.  Frankly, the United Nations International day of Happiness has not lived up to expectations, but at least I can look forward to the company of Brenner again next week.

MK Dons 1 Ipswich Town 1

Leaden clouds, gusting wind, rain.  I spend my Saturday morning mesmerised by the steady drip of water from the leaves of the fig tree outside my living room window, and the drip, drip, drip from the underside of the gutter onto the window sill and the Begonia in the adjacent window box.   It’s all so beautiful but so sad, like the thought of Ipswich Town playing MK Dons.  Football is allegedly the beautiful game, but the presence of MK Dons in the Football League is a source of sadness and not a little anger to me.   It was to be expected that the gutless, ineffective Football League, an administrative body that doesn’t understand the sport it administers,  would allow the original Wimbledon football club to be hollowed out and the empty husk replanted in a new town over sixty miles away to the north, and although seventeen years have passed since then, it remains as something that was and still is fundamentally wrong, like mullets, racism, the ‘quartic’ steering wheel of the original Austin Allegro, Chris Sutton and slavery.

Drip, drip, drip on the Begonias

My usual enthusiasm for Town’s game today is therefore tempered and I’m not ‘quite myself’. Unsure of exactly who I am I have allowed the morning to drift away in aimless reverie, although I did have a lucid half an hour in which I experienced brief happiness in finding a wing nut that fitted the bottom of a metal bird feeder on which the original nut had rusted away.  My back garden now is mobbed with a feeding frenzy of sparrows and starlings but such is my listlessness it is two-thirty and I am only just sitting down with my wife Paulene to eat lunch; a salad featuring the unusual combination of tuna and sliced sausage; the joy of leftovers. Worst of all I have not had, and have little desire to have a pre-match ‘pint’, despite a well-stocked beer cupboard which contains five cases of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer in addition to bottles of Westmalle Dubbel, Orval, Dark Star Revelation, Titanic Plum Porter, Chimay and Chimay Brun.  My heart is not in this.

It is gone ten to three as I find myself retiring to one of two spare bedrooms in my boring late 1970’s semi-detached house, getting comfortable in an Ikea Poang chair and switching on the wireless.  Shockingly my ears are assaulted by the faintly estuarine tones of a young woman talking authoritatively about today’s Braintree Town line-up, quickly I move the dial the necessary couple of degrees to reach the safety of Radio Suffolk where an intense sounding young man is being interviewed and makes reference to ‘affleets’ and being ‘affletic’; apparently he played for Lowestoft Town but is now at Wycombe Wanderers. His name it transpires is Malachi Lynton and if he is as serious about his football career as he sounds he should do well, although I hope he gets to laugh a bit as well.

Three o’clock approaches and I am joined by Brenner Woolley against a background of loud rock music which bleeds into ‘Hey Jude’ as he introduces the legendary Alex Mathie, a man who earns that ‘legendary’ epithet courtesy of his hat-trick in the most recent of our three 5-0 thrashings of the yellow-feathered peril from up the A140.   Brenner tells me that the team is the same as last week and Alex adds how he is looking forward to seeing Town ‘live’ for the first time this season.

The game begins; I don’t catch which team kicks off, which direction they are kicking relative to Brenner and Alex’s seats or what the two teams are wearing. I am pleased to quickly learn from Brenner however that Paul Lambert has on his black overcoat.  “Fabulous stuff from the home team” says Brenner.  “That should’ve been 1-0” says Alex.  Oh crikey.

MK Dons have won none of their opening four matches this season but as is often the case they seem to be one of those teams who have been saving themselves for the game against Ipswich.  But little good it does them as in the seventh minute Brenner tells me “Nolan shoots….he scores”.  It doesn’t sound like it was goal of the season however, and Brenner advises that it was against the run of play, although I’m not altogether sure how valid the expression ‘against the run of play’ is when the game is only seven minutes old.

Relaxing a little now that Town are in what has become their customary winning position, I pick up my mobile phone to catch up on my Twitter feed where I enjoy some pictures of the fabulous Stade Bolleart in Lens tweeted by AS St Etienne, who play there at four o’clock today and are blissfully unaware that they are destined to lose 2-0.  St Etienne were of course probably the best of the six teams that Town beat on our way to winning the UEFA Cup in 1981 (well, they had the best players) and Racing Club de Lens are geographically the nearest ‘top-team’ to Ipswich’s twin-town of Arras.  Town really should try and have closer links to these two French clubs as much as to Fortuna Dusseldorf with whom Town have nothing in common.  My dreams of matches in France are interrupted by an injury to Stephen Ward and the ‘will he/won’t he be substituted’ drama that ensues.  Ward stays on.  “Great recovery from the Irishman” says Brenner, as if the player’s nationality had a bearing on his being able to continue.   Relieved, I return to Twitter where at Maes Tegid it is 0-0 between Bala Town and Haverfordwest in the Welsh Premier League, but getting more up to date I learn that Chris Venables has put Bala ahead with a penalty.  At least Town are still winning and it sounds as if a Franz Beckenbauer-like surging run from James Wilson will make it 2-0, but Brenner pushes me back from the edge of my seat with the words “Sears shoots wide”.

I don’t know if the game is not that good, or Town aren’t playing very well, but Brenner goes off on an irrelevant tangent relaying every imaginable fact about Town’s previous runs of consecutive clean-sheets.  I seek solace in Twitter again where Haverfordwest have equalised and I find confirmation of Nolan’s goal.  With twenty minutes having passed Brenner succeeds in recapturing my attention with one of his moments of surrealist commentary as he refers to “Lewington with is captain’s armband on his left instep”. To protect my mental well-being I don’t think about it beyond briefly imagining team photos by Picasso.

Surrealism is replaced by tragedy as Stephen Ward leaves the pitch to be replaced by Miles Kenlock, Ward’s Irishness only being sufficient to beat the injury for no more than ten minutes.  Meanwhile I have caught up with the Twitter feed to the extent that I have just seen Jon Nolan’s goal which someone has recorded off the ifollow on the telly.  The goal was a mess but at least I have learnt that Town are playing in all blue and their opponents in all white, like a knock-off Leeds United.  Twitter continues to be a source of joy as I discover that it is full time at match in Carrow Road and the away team have won, although more importantly the home team have lost.

A third of the match has passed and Brenner evidently thinks it is time to use some of his own brand of football-ese as the ball is crossed by one of the Dons and “…is plucked out of the sky by Holy”.  It cannot be denied that Tomas Holy is very, or even very very tall, but it is open to debate whether he is capable of plucking something from the sky or indeed whether the cross was so high that the ball was ‘in the sky’ as opposed to just being ‘in the air’.  Perhaps Brenner is very short, it’s hard to tell on the radio.

As half-time beckons I finally catch up to the very latest Tweets and Brenner and Alex provide a brief resume of  the half,  admitting that it’s “ all gone a bit flat”.  MK Dons apparently look a “decent side” according to Brenner but he can’t help tempting fate by saying that they haven’t really looked “like troubling Holy” before again messing with the English language as he tells us that “Harvie plants one over the top”.  In the final minute of the half Alex Mathie treats us to the sound of a stifled sneeze, for which he apologises, but I enjoyed it and was pleased that it revealed that despite having scored a hat-trick against Norwich, Alex is a mere mortal susceptible to the common cold or nasal irritation like me or Brenner.

Forty-five minutes are almost gone and Brenner sounds a trifle miffed that there will be five minutes of added time, as if he has to be off sharpish after the match, but he is more enthusiastic as he tells us that “…may be there is a chance for MK Dons to equalise before half-time”.   They don’t equalise but it seems that the chance came courtesy of the Ipswich defence. “Bad defending” says Alex channelling Alan Hansen as only a fellow Scot could.  The half-time whistle is blown and Alex concludes that Town “…just shaded it”, but he doesn’t sound convinced by his own words.  Alex and Brenner both go on to list the Town players who have done okay, these are Freddie Sears, Toto Nsiala, Tomas Holy and Jon Nolan; I head downstairs to put the kettle on and avail myself of a Nature Valley Peanut and Chocolate protein bar by way of a half time snack.

Half-time

The second half has already started by the time I return to the comfort of my Ikea Poang chair and I am thankful to my wife Paulene for telling me that Pompey had already scored at Burton which gave me the clue that play had probably resumed in Milton Keynes too. I am not reassured to hear Alex say that “We haven’t started the second half yet” and it becomes clear that the game has started but Ipswich Town haven’t.  With nine minutes of the half gone Brenner repeats his description of the Town goal, substituting Nolan for Harvie.  MK Dons have equalised.  Unable to put my mobile phone down I switch from Twitter to Facebook where I see that  ever-present Phil who never misses a game has issued a post, “Bugger” it says, and for a moment I think how wonderful it would be if that had been the radio commentary from Brenner or Alex.

Paul Lambert responds quickly to the goal for some reason, replacing Freddie Sears and Teddy Bishop with little Alan Judge and Flynn Downes, which seems a bit hasty given that we have already had to make one enforced substitution due to Ward’s injury.  Paul Lambert moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform however, and so too it seems does Miles Kenlock.  “Kenlock’s gone to sleep” claims Brenner as Town’s opponents threaten to score again.  Whether Kenlock suddenly woke up Brenner doesn’t say, but he does reveal that it was Town captain Luke Chambers who ultimately saved the day.  There is a half hour left and it is made clear by Brenner that the Dons are definitely the best side at the moment.

As comfortable as I am in my Ikea Poang chair in a physical sense, my listening is not such a comfortable experience and things go from not ideal to worse as a Flynn Downes tackle injures Flynn himself instead of the opposition player and he has to leave the field of play; there is of course no remaining substitute to replace him.  “It’s not particularly pleasant watching at the moment” says Brenner, and he prepares his listeners back in Suffolk for the worst by adding that “It looks like a matter of time before MK Dons score”. 

Outside, the clouds have lifted slightly and a watery sunshine is leaking through the blinds of the spare bedroom.  On Twitter, Racing Club de Lens have started to beat St Etienne courtesy of Gael Kakuta, who incidentally is Congolese like our very own Toto Nsiala.  Barely able to listen to the tale of shattered hopes unfolding in Buckinghamshire I catch up with more latest scores on Twitter and take another look at Facebook, where it is apparent that on one of the Ipswich Town supporters’ groups someone has been streaming the game from the ifollow. This has ended in verbal abuse if not tears, as most things on social media do, and the stream has stopped, for which the streamer has somewhat predictably received a fresh dose of abuse.  It pains me that Ipswich Town supporters can’t all be nice to one another, but sadly intolerance seems to be quite the fashion nowadays.

It’s almost ten to five and despite Alex’s wishful commentating with “Wouldn’t it be lovely if Town could nick one” in fact it sounds like Town are mostly struggling to hold on to the draw. “An awful moment of comedy there” says Brenner as if reviewing an episode of ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’, but actually telling us about Town’s defence.   Happily however, Town survive and whilst Alex’s hopes are not realised Brenner’s prediction of MK Dons goals is not either, and at four minutes to five full- time is called. We may have missed the start of Crackerjack but at least we haven’t lost. 

Not feeling as relieved as I should that we didn’t lose I remain slumped in my Ikea Poang chair.  Brenner and Alex each provide their brief summary of the match. “It was 1-0 to Town in the first half, and 1-0 to MK Dons in the second half” says Brenner. “Ipswich won the first half and MK Dons won the second” says Alex.  Feeling enlightened beyond my wildest dreams I head for my beer cupboard, where I intend to stay until the next proper game on Saturday week.

Braintree Town 1 Truro City 1

It’s a mild and blowy Tuesday night in November and there’s a ‘top of the table clash’ just eight miles down the road from my house as Braintree Town play Truro City in the Vanarama National League South. It might not be far from my house, but Braintree is a bloody long way from Truro, 343 miles apparently and as far as any club has ever travelled to play a league match against Braintree Town. In awe of such a statistic I am inexorably drawn to witness the occasion.
I could get to Braintree by train, but I’d have to change at Witham and I don’t want to do that. So I take the easy option, which is to drive. Parking up near the end of Clockhouse Way at about ten past seven, the streets are quiet, with no one heading for the match, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdrawn by the eerie glow of the floodlights through the now mostly skeletal boughs of the trees. L S Lowry would never have made much of his painting ‘Going to the match’ if he’d lived and painted in Braintree. Entering the car park of the Ironmongery Direct Stadium (formerly and more prosaically known as Cressing Road) I stop to snap a photo for this blog. “How many pictures of grounds have you got then?” asks a man heading for the turnstile. He thinks I’m a ground hopper. I am a bit embarrassed, but say “Oooh, not many, a couple of hundred”.
The admission price this season at Braintree has very sportingly been reduced from £16 to £14 following relegation and similarly the programme is 50p cheaper too, although it’s no longer glossy, I like it all the more for that. I enter the stadium to the strains of Amen Corner: “If paradise is half as nice as being here with you…” which makes me feel wanted. Sadly the welcoming choice of music does not last until kick-off as the two teams enter the field to Emerson Lake & Palmer’s “Fanfare for the common man”. I say Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s; but it was only their arrangement of a piece written by American composer Aaron Copland, which your common man might possibly not know. It’s no less appropriate for work-a-day Braintree but it’s a bit naff too. But there’s nothing very exotic about the Vanarama National League South,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA as its name perhaps suggests; like a lot of non-league football it is the haunt of builders and ‘White Van Man’, which is possibly why Vanarama, purveyors of commercial vehicles, thought it worth their while to sponsor it.
I take up a position at the end of the low metal roofed terrace on the east side of the ground, known as The Shed. Three Truro fans are attaching flags to the back wall of the stand, one of which refers to Truro being the Tin Men.

There is a larger group of Truro fans stood behind the goal at the end of the ground that the teams appeared from; they have a big Cornish flag. Truro City kick-off the game towards those supporters, wearing all blue, whilst Braintree make it a colourful spectacle by wearing all orange. The three Truro fans immediately make one helluva racket repeating “Truro, Truro, Truro” over and over and over again to the tune of Amazing Grace. A larger bunch of Braintree fans stood just a few yards away look on slightly bemused or perhaps impressed; eventually they respond with some chants of “Iron, Iron, Iron” , but not any old iron, the Iron that is Braintree Town’s nickname. They soon give up in the face of Truro’s Amazing Grace however, which eventually ends abruptly with a little cough. The Truro fans then start to sing ”Come on Truro, come on Truro” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne which is predictably answered with “Fuck off Truro, fuck off Truro” to the same tune; the concept of terrace wit is grossly exaggerated.
Meanwhile, jet airliners from Stanstead soar overhead, the noise of their engines blotted out by three blokes form Cornwall under an echoing tin roof. On the pitch Braintree look sharp from the start with their diminutive number seven darting about on the wing just in front of me and the Cornishmen. Both teams seem to be made up of three or four enormous blokes; at least two at the back and one up front. The remainder of the team look tiny by comparison, it’s as if the Vanarama National League South imposes some sort of combined height quota on its teams; the aggregate height of the team not being allowed to exceed the length of seven Transit vans placed end to end. Truro’s number four is possibly the most enormous man on the pitch, he sports a beard and although he is absolutely massive he doesn’t really deserve the ‘fat bastard’ epithet the Braintree supporters inevitably award him.
The three Cornishmen embark on an acapello rendition of “Come On Truro” in what is rapidly becoming an evening of K-tel ‘s greatest hits from the terraces . The Truro supporters behind the goal break into a rare song and the vocal threesome sing “We forgot that you were here” to Bread of Heaven. Intrigued by this I ask one of the Cornishmen why they aren’t they with the others behind the goal. He tells me it’s because they wanted to be under the roof. I ask if there isn’t some split between Truro supporters, “Don’t ask” he says, so I don’t. One of their flags is for the Truro City Independent Supporters Club so I just speculate that may be there is some sort of great Cornish schism much like the one that afflicted the Christian Church in the middle of the eleventh century. (1054).
Meanwhile it’s not a bad match, the blend of big blokes and smaller ones is an even one and the teams are well matched, but to the extent that the ball is rarely in danger of hitting either goal net. I am conscious that a man in a hi-vis jacket has been stood next to me for several seconds and I turn slightly to my right to face him. He’s a steward, and it’s as if he’s been waiting for me to acknowledge him, “Could you stand behind there please sir” he says, gesturing towards the chunky orange crush barrier. “Okay” I say cheerily, not wishing to cause a scene, although I had been quite happy where I was. The Beatles “Hey Jude” is now the vehicle for the latest chants of “Truro” whilst Braintree supporters weirdly and somewhat mournfully appropriate “Sloop John B” to chant “We know who we are, We know who we are, There’s one team in Essex, We know who we are”.
It’s about twenty past eight and suddenly the Braintree Town defence mysteriously melts away allowing Truro’s number ten Cody Cooke to run through and score a goal. The Truro fans are very pleased and inevitably have a song to celebrate the occasion as they tell us “ Cody Cooke is one of us, he loves Truro” although I thought it sounded like he loves Jesus, which of course he might. Half-past eight arrives and brings with it half-time and I move to the terrace by the players tunnel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The tannoy treats us to a rarely heard hit from 1970, Blackfoot Sue’s “Standing In The Road”; tonight at Cressing Road is proving to be a musical wonderland.
The second half begins and Braintree quickly hit their first decent shot on target and then they score as Roman Michael-Purcell easily turns in a cross from Phil Roberts who had made an exciting run forward. Restless as I am I am now sat in the box like main stand. Behind me a man who probably has a mental illness provides an occasional commentary announcing players names and incidents. His voice reminds me a little of the late John Arlot; he has a slight burr which lengthens the players’ names. He seems to have a love for the sounds of the names and is familiar with them all; he repeats some of them often such as Marcel Barrington and Christian Frimpong, who he calls Ping Pong. His ‘commentary’ is in in the style of John Motson as he announces substitutions for both teams but then Truro’s Andrew Neal flattens Frimpong in full flight. “Refereee, refereeee!” our commentator calls and then adds “Fucking cunt” . Then, to close this episode he says “Yellow card, Andrew Neal, the cheeky little fellow”.
The wind is getting stronger and swirls of willow leaves spiral down in front of the stand onto the edge of the pitch. More substitutions are announced behind me as is the fact that Matt Baxter does not come off the bench for Braintree, “ Not Matt Baxter, not Matt Baxter” is the refrain. The game remains tight and interesting as both teams play to win but don’t really come that close to getting a second goal. Truro substitute Tyler Harvey likes to run at the Braintree defence and creates a couple of half-chances and with his long tied back hair he looks like he might be found surfing on Newquay beach when not turning out on a Tuesday night for Truro City. I like to think there is a VW campervan somewhere in the club car park.
The match draws to a close with both sides going for goal unsuccessfully. It was tight at the top of the Vanarama National League South table when this game began and now when it ends at a bit after half past nine, it still is; a point for each team alters nothing. The home crowd are perhaps more disappointed not to have won than the travellers from Cornwall who have at least had a road trip and a jolly sing-song; and me, I’ve had a lovely time.

 

Braintree Town 1 Woking 3

 

There is something about the name Braintree that is slightly funny. Brain is quite a funny word to start with. “Is this a piece of your brain?” Basil Fawlty enquired of Mrs Richards. In a similar vein, it’s easy to say Braintree in the same the way that Mr Gumby says “Gumby” in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Try it. See?

So, it was with Pythonesque humour in mind that I travelled down the A120 before finally parking my car towards the end of the rather charmingly named Clockhouse Way, which leads to Braintree Town’s strangely named Ironmongery Direct Stadium. Ironmongery is a lovely word though, so Victorian; it’s a pity it’s paired with ‘Direct’. The company may well want to get across the idea that their products can be ordered and delivered promptly, but if your business name really counts they have left a big space in the market for a rival company called “Ironmongery Post-Haste”.
It was a little after 7 o’clock and Clockhouse Way was deserted, my only company being the smell of people’s dinners wafting from kitchen windows and extractor fans. The evidence says they eat mostly meat and gravy in Braintree, in Clockhouse Way on a Tuesday in any case; not a sniff of curry, Bolognese sauce, Bourguignon or Paella here. The houses around the north end of the stadium are like little sugar cubes, flat roofed, angular and white they date from the 1920’s and were built by the Crittall company for their workers; these houses were the prototype for the planned village of Silver End just a few miles from Braintree to the south east. The roots of Braintree Town Football Club lie in Crittall’s and the Crittall Athletic Football club.
As I rounded the corner towards the football ground I at last saw a few other would be spectators walking to the match, summoned by the glow of the flood lights. Sixteen quid lighter I was in the ground where I promptly donated another £2.50 for a programme.32763435523_29a7da7680_z Eighteen pounds and fifty pence seems a lot to watch semi-professional football I thought, even if a lot of the teams they play against in the Vanarama National League are fully professional. Oh well, I’m here now. The only food outlet in the ground is just inside the gate and I breathed in the smell of chips, vinegar and oil as I watched the teams warm up and four middle aged ladies toiled away behind me preparing their saturated fat-based fayre.

Whilst it just happens to be the name of the club’s main sponsor, The Ironmongery Direct Stadium is well named because there is a lot of metal on show here. The terraces are narrow and dominated by sturdy, tubular, orange crush barriers; OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthere is sheet metal fencing behind one end; the main stand (the only one with seats) is a box of steel girders and metal sheeting and on the opposite side of the ground the terrace has a long, low metal roof over it. Behind the goal at both ends of the ground even a part of the very terrace itself is made of steel. The whole place is tied together with bolts and lashings of blue and mostly orange paint; it looks a treat. Even the buckets of sand OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto sprinkle on the pitch are orange,but sadly they’re made of plastic; note to self – a sales opportunity for Ironmongery Post-Haste.
I wander all around the ground before settling under the metal roof of the terrace behind the dug outs. Tonight Braintree, home of The Prodigy are playing Woking, home of The Jam. That’s Entertainment! The scene as the teams line up is a Fauvist dream with Braintree in orange shirts and blue shorts and Woking in red and white halved shirts all on a bright green pitch, made more vivid by the floodlights. The game kicks off and immediately a raucous chorus of “Iron, Iron, Iron, Iron, Iron” rattles out from under the roofed terrace from a bunch of blokes in their thirties and forties. They are a motley and shouty bunch; one of them is well over 6 feet tall and wears yellow hi-vis trousers and a vivid orange bobble hat for that ‘got here straight from work’ look. A smaller, hollow faced man sports a very straggly mullet. It’s easy to imagine this being a works outing for the men from Crittall’s foundry.
Woking start the game much better than Braintree and launch several quick and simple attacks, earning a couple of corners. With only ten minutes gone they deserve to be ahead. But the home supporters have their faith placed in top scorer Michael Cheek and his close range dribbler also earns a corner. “Come on Cheeky” is the cry from the terrace, but not in a camp way, sadly.

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Then I get to touch the ball, which is something that’s only ever happened to me twice before at a ‘big’ game like this (at Vale Park and Upton Park if you’re interested). The ball comes flying off the pitch in my direction. “Heads” shout the shouty blokes, but I just raise my right arm and in one smooth movement pat the ball down onto the terrace from where it bounces over the perimeter wall and back on to the pitch. That must’ve looked pretty cool I think. It is met by those on the terrace with the silence of disappointment that I haven’t made a prat of myself. I‘ve put my shoulder out mind, but they don’t know that.
No doubt feeling caressed and relaxed by my touch, the ball soon nestles in the Woking net courtesy of a 20 yard shot by Cheeky. “Oh when The Iron, Oh when The Iron, Oh when The Iron go steaming in” is the new confident chant from the terrace where no one seems to notice that it sounds like a song about laundry. The Woking fans on the open terrace behind the far goal are downcast, but only temporarily as within a couple of minutes the exotically named Delano Sam-Yorke is given the simple task of tapping the ball over the Braintree goal line to equalise.
The action is frenetic and the Braintree right-back, who has the most nobbly bald head I have ever seen, hits a post for Braintree before Sam-Yorke scores again, this time a glorious shot high into the net, to give Woking the lead. From under the roof of the terrace a volley of effing and blinding escapes, along with noisy calls to “sord it aaart”.Woking are worth their lead however and have earned the applause of their supporters when it’s time to troop off for half-time into the changing room, which oddly looks a lot like a council bungalow. Meanwhile the home supporters abuse the referee angrily for perceived mis-judgements which favoured Woking.
Perusing the team sheet (free tonight because the printer is a bit ropey) the name of Woking’s No 3 Terell Thomas makes me smile as I imagine a footballing cad sporting a moustache, cravat and gap between his front teeth. I also like the surname of their No 2, Jake Caprice, although so far he seems pretty reliable. Half-time ends and the second half begins and the supporters have changed ends like the teams; this is what football should be like. I stand with some Woking fans now; visitors from a strange town, they look better fed and better dressed than the locals of Braintree. There is one very tall, upright, and rather prim looking lady stood on her own, who is very neatly attired with red and white scarf and bobble hat. I overhear a very respectable looking couple nearby whisper “Wendoline” to one another as she passes by, which being familiar with the work of Aardman Animations is exactly what I’d thought. I smirk knowingly at them and want to ask if they know Paul Weller.
Woking still look the better side, they are quick in attack whereas Braintree are ponderous and a bit aimless. When Woking score a third goal about twenty minutes before the end the Woking fans cheer very loudly, clearly relieved that they feel the result is now safe. I move along the terrace to be nearer the dugouts which are as high as the eaves of the stand. It’s an evening for coats and a man near me turns to his friend and says how glad he is he “wrapped-up warm” tonight. The Woking manager Garry Hill wears a short, dark coat over a shirt and tie and office worker trousers, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhe could have just got here from a job in the city. He is animated and between encouraging shouts to his players he has a gesture driven conversation with his coach; with his wide range of hand movements if Garry Hill didn’t have that job in the city he could be a bookie at a race course. In contrast the Braintree Town manager Hakan Hayrettin OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstays wrapped up in his massive polyester manager’s coat inside the Perspex dug-out; he barely moves and looks like he’s digesting a heavy meal. Hakan leaves the animation and shouting to a coach in a shapeless blue coat, who has Ken Dodd hair and patrols the ‘technical area’. As an aside, why does football insist on calling that oblong in front of the dug-out a ‘technical area’? What’s so technical about a rectangle of turf and a few white lines? It must have been the FA who coined the term, the same FA who based a nation’s coaching ethos on the so very technical ‘get it in the mixer’ approach of Charles Hughes.
As the game heads towards its conclusion Braintree make a host of substitutions as they seek to penetrate the Woking defence, but tonight Woking are simply too good for them. To their credit however, the Braintree supporters in the crowd of 572 mostly stay on until the bitter end and they still seem to retain the faith and will be back again on April 8th to see The Iron take on Dover Athletic.
On balance it was a good night despite the result, but tonight I particularly enjoyed the shirts of both teams, oh and also of course, I got to touch the ball.