Lakenheath 2 Mulbarton Wanderers 0


The village of Lakenheath, in the top left hand corner of Suffolk beyond Mildenhall is some 69 kilometres from the County Town of Ipswich, about an hour’s drive along the A14, the A1101 and then the B1112.  Lakenheath has a railway station but hardly any trains stop there.    If you want to watch Lakenheath FC play on a Saturday afternoon and you really, really want to travel by train two journeys are possible; leaving Ipswich at 8am and 8.08am these take you via Ely and Thetford or via Norwich and Thetford arriving at twenty four minutes past ten, giving you ample time to walk or even crawl the near 4.5 kilometres to Lakenheath village; no buses pass the station.  You’ll need to take a sleeping bag because there is no train back from Lakenheath until the next day.  If however, you like a lie-in on a Saturday morning but are still committed to saving the planet by using public transport then from Ipswich it is easier and quicker to catch the 11:20 train to Bury St Edmunds from where Mulley’s Motorways service 955 to Mildenhall connects with Coach Services service 201, which arrives ‘outside the post box’ (as opposed to inside it) at Lakenheath at 13.33.  Getting back is difficult however because the last bus out of Lakenheath arrives in Mildenhall at 18.18, eight minutes after the last bus departed for Bury.  The only way to return from Lakenheath therefore is to catch the 18.58 number 200 bus to Thetford, which is perfectly timed to arrive one minute after the train to Ely for the onward connection to Ipswich left at 19:24.  The next train from Thetford is the 19:54 to Norwich from where a connection arrives back in Ipswich at 21:41.   The on-line timetables tell us that the bus ‘services’ are supported by Suffolk County Council, but it’s as if they are trying to make them unusable, perhaps so a lack of passengers will justify not supporting them in the future.

With the best part of seven hours being a lot of time to spend on travelling to a ‘local’ football match, my wife Paulene and I reluctantly dodge the pleas of Greta Thurnberg and climb in to our trusty Citroen C3.  Sadly, it’s not such a fine day to go travelling either, with low grey clouds, a strong blustery wind and the threat of rain casting foreboding over the Suffolk landscape.  The countryside is bleak on a day such as this, although the open fields of Breckland with their rows of contorted Scots Pine trees (pine lines) leaning with the prevailing wind give this corner of Suffolk a distinctive character. 

Lakenheath has a long broad main street; we pass the medieval church of St Mary the Virgin on our right and at the instruction of our French speaking satnav turn a droite into Wing Street and then a gauche into a rough car park and the gateway to ‘The Pit’ or ‘The Nest’ as Lakenheath’s football ground is known.  Access is down a rough slope and round a sharp corner into another small rough car park; the site is an old chalk pit or quarry.  We’ve definitely come to the right place as the Mulbarton Wanderers team bus is parked opposite and they are today’s opponents. 

Tall trees surround us on three sides and as I lock up the Citroen Paulene takes crunchy footsteps across the car park to the small wooden turnstile hut without a turnstile.   Paulene asks the man in the wooden hut how old you have to be to be considered a pensioner but he doesn’t answer and charges us full price (£5 each), we buy a programme too (£1).  The  players are out on the pitch warming up as we head for the clubhouse; Paulene remarks on the dugouts being on the far side of the pitch and admits to having hated having to trudge across the pitch from the changing room to the dugout in her time as  physio with Wivenhoe Town.  It looks like Lakenheath have recently moved theirs to the other side of the pitch, perhaps to improve the view from the stand.

The clubhouse is spacious, if a little dark as a result, but the bar and barmaid are bright and welcoming and I order a glass of rose for Paulene; sadly there is no real ale so I take a deep breath and order a half of Greene King IPA ‘Smooth’, although I would prefer almost any other beer, even if it’s rough; the two drinks cost £5.30.  We sit at a table by a window.  The TV is on but a caption says there is no signal, perhaps because we are in the bottom of a quarry.  Without TV to dull people’s minds the room is filled with the sound of conversation but also the thumping rhythm of loud music from the changing rooms next door; I like to imagine it’s the referees not the players making the noise and that they are stood in their pants singing into hairbrushes and playing air-guitar .  At the table behind us three middle-aged men talk very loudly as if trying to be heard above the sound of jet engines at the nearby air force base. They discuss retired footballers, most of whom are now dead.  Although this is a far flung corner of Suffolk, the twang of London accents is evident.  A man in a yellow and black jacket sells us a strip of yellow draw tickets, Nos 481 to 485.  As usual I am destined not to win; the seller has got to me four strips too early.

Time passes quickly and it’s almost five to three. The loud men behind us have already left and we follow suit, downing what’s left of our drinks before braving the breezy outdoors; we both have our woolly hats on today.   The two teams line up behind the referee Mr Cameron Saunders and his two assistants Messrs Andrew Hardy and Lewis Lofts, who sounds like he might offer to board over your attic.  The group marches on to the pitch but quickly break formation, not hanging round for any ritual handshaking as happens at higher levels of the game.

Lakenheath get first go with the ball kicking towards Wing Street and wearing green shirts with white shorts and socks, they look a bit like French Ligue 2 club Red Star.  Mulbarton Wanderers are in all pale blue with shirts sponsored by ‘Pip’s Skips’ and they play in the direction of the railway line far off to the north.  The early pace of the game is fast with a clear desire to get the ball forward quickly.  Mulbarton soon settle but look lightweight up front.  Despite the blustery wind and a hard and uneven looking pitch some of the football is neat and good to watch.  For both these clubs it’s their first ever season in the Eastern Counties League First Division,  step-six of non-league football, and both have done well, with Mulbarton guaranteed a third place finish and Lakenheath set to finish fifth in the nineteen team league if they win today.

Weirdly Lakenheath don’t seem to have a team captain, with no one wearing an armband and no one annotated as such on the team sheet.  As much as a sort of football-collective seems a good idea, their goal keeper Frank Gammon, which incidentally I think is a great name, seems to be taking on the mantle however, with his constant encouragement and advice from the penalty area.  “Win your battles”, “Left Shoulder”, “No foul” he shouts, continuously.   But he’s doing a good job and Mulbarton are kept at bay without much difficulty.  Lakenheath seem to have just one striker, number nine Shaun Avis who the programme tells me has scored 15 goals in just seven games this season, which is rather impressive.  He looks lively but misses the two chances he has, taking the ball around the Mulbarton keeper Tom Wright by the corner of the penalty area, but then going for the spectacular and achieving it with a spectacularly high and wide shot before also glancing a free header wide of the goal.

Paulene and I take a stroll around to take in the ambiance of ‘The Pit’, which we both agree is a much better name than ‘The Nest’ not just because it is devoid of unfortunate associations with Norwich City, which is very important in Suffolk.  It’s a name that makes me think of Clive King’s children’s novel ‘Stig of the Dump’  and I imagine a variation of the story in which a boy makes friends with a team of Neolithic footballers and helps them erect a goal, which looks uncannily like Stonehenge.   This is a lovely football ground, the steep sides of the former quarry and the tall trees acting like natural substitutes for tall stands and creating a sense of enclosure which few non-league grounds even at much higher levels can rival.  Sadly it’s a grey day today but it must be beautiful in the sunshine; even today there is birdsong and  the tall trees sway eerily in the wind; wild flowers grow behind the goal lines and one corner of the pitch is covered in daisies, albeit closed up ones.  Sadly, it’s not yet possible to walk all around the pitch but a concrete path behind the dug-outs and right hand goal form the man stand is due to be completed in the close season.

Back on the pitch, Mulbarton appeal for a penalty. “Handball!” shouts someone, “Rubbish” shouts someone else in response from the stand.  Either way no one seems to much like referee Mr Saunders and someone else shouts “Referee, you’re getting worse”.  I am slightly suspicious of Mr Saunders myself, his hair is just a bit too neat; he could be a Jehovah’s witness or a Mormon. Meanwhile on the near touchline to the stand the grey-haired, be-spectacled referee’s assistant reminds me of a conductor on the Eastern Counties buses I used catch to school.

Half-time arrives and I depart for the clubhouse where there is a short queue at the bar for teas and coffees.  As I queue the half-time draw is made; ticket number 501 wins first prize and the man behind me in the queue discovers he is the winner, but at least I get my tea before him.   The tea (£1 per ‘cup’) is poured from a large pot into china mugs, this is sadly something that happens almost nowhere else in senior football any more but it should.  If a football club is happy to get the china out it makes you feel like a human being, not as if any old plastic or polystyrene receptacle will do just to get another quid out of you; it feels like they want people to enjoy this tea, as if they care; and a very good cup of tea it is too.  We drink our tea in the small brick stand, a homely and utilitarian structure with wooden benches, it’s beautifully dilapidated and I hope it’s never demolished to make way for one of the boring modern, ‘meccano’ stands.

Paulene and I are refreshed and the game begins again at precisely three minutes past four. Within six minutes Lakenheath are ahead.  No one seems quite sure why, although importantly Mulbarton players do not seem to be complaining, but Mr Saunders awards a penalty to Lakenheath and  top scorer Kelvin Enaro scores his twenty eighth goal of the season,  booting the ball to Tom Wright’s right as he collapses to his knees.   With a goal lead Lakenheath are more relaxed; the pace of the game is a little slower and the passing more accurate and more controlled, there’s less anxiety.   Mulbarton look even less likely to score than they did in the first half, but do claim the first booking of the match as their number seven, the splendidly named Dom Doggett,  incurs Mr Saunders’ wrath for a foul.  It’s not long before Doggett is substituted for number fourteen, Charlie Norman. 

For a while the game drifts and I listen to the birdsong and enjoy the lush greenery of the quarry banks.   A tall, grey-haired man walks up into the stand carrying a match ball. “Man of the match Dave? What did you do, score a hat-trick?” asks a voice at the back.   Eventually Lakenheath win a corner and the action steps up a gear. “Come on Heath” shouts a man in the stand; it’s not a very imaginative nickname for the club but it follows the pattern set at nearby Mildenhall who are known as ‘The Hall’.  Personally, I reckon they should be known as ‘The Quarrymen’ .   After one corner, follows another as a shot flashes past the post, deflected away by the Mulbarton defence.   It’s twenty-five past four and Frank Gammon sends a kick deep into the Mulbarton half, the bounce fools the Mulbarton defence and number eleven James McCabe runs on to poke the ball over Tom Wright’s head and puts  ‘The Heath’ (‘The Quarrymen’) two-nil up. 

With the second goal the game changes and seems to lose the reserve it showed earlier. Lakenheath miss open-goals and hit the cross-bar whilst Mr Saunders the referee becomes rather officious and begins to wave his yellow card about with gay-abandon, booking players on both teams, mostly it appears for whinging and whining rather than anything particularly serious.  I think it’s his way of adding to the entertainment, everyone loves a good moan about the referee.   But happily if there is any ill-feeling it doesn’t last and with the final whistle Mr Saunders and his assistants stand together to receive the handshakes of both teams.

As the stand empties out after the game we stop and talk for several minutes with three people in orange hi-viz jackets, who are temporarily working on the air base, it’s almost as if we don’t want to leave.   Driving back home along the B1112 Paulene and I reflect on our afternoon at ‘The Pit’ and both agree that we’ve had a most enjoyable time and importantly have witnessed a Suffolk team beating a Norfolk one which in my mind at least helps redress the recent imbalance between Ipswich Town and Norwich City.   We look forward to returning on a sunny day.

Coggeshall Town 2 Felixstowe & Walton United 1


It’s Easter and it is unseasonably warm. The mercury hit 23 degrees in my back garden yesterday and today could be warmer. In holiday mood and beneath a clear blue sky my wife Paulene and I set off in our trusty Citroen C3 on the short journey to Coggeshall to watch Coggeshall Town play Felixstowe & Walton United in the Bostik League, Division One North. We are taking the scenic route today in order to drop off Easter eggs for the grandsons; I feel like the Easter Bunny.

On arrival at their house, their father Colin is slouched watching Tottenham Hotspur on the telly, he responds mono- syllabically to our attempts at conversation. Tottenham are losing, I quietly hope that they continue to do so. Grandson Harvey is as loquacious as his father, but does let Paulene know as economically as possible that it’s the same type of Easter egg we bought him last year.

With Easter eggs delivered we obligingly pop to the Co-op as their advertisements tell us to, so that I can draw some cash and Paulene can buy chocolate of her own; non-dairy chocolate, white vanilla by i-choc; Paulene is dairy intolerant. Leaving the treasures of the Co-op behind us we complete the third leg of our journey, heading along West Street before turning left in to the bouncy car park of what was once known colourfully as ‘The Crops’, but has boringly been re-christened the West
Street Ground; how dull. Our Citroen C3 wishes it was a 2CV. A steward directs me to pull up close “to that one over there” a large Vauxhall. We disembark and a car load of Felixstowe followers park up next to us in another, smaller Vauxhall. At the turnstile I hand over two ten pound notes and receive £3.50 is change (Adult £10, Pensioner £5, programme £1.50). “Enjoy the match” says the turnstile operator “You too” I tell him “If you get to see it”. Oddly, the cost of entry has gone up a pound since I last was here for the FA Cup tie versus Witham in August last year, maybe FA Cup ties are just cheaper

We walk along the concrete path to the clubhouse, looking down upon the pitch on to which water sprinklers gently play. The path along the ‘top of the ground’, behind the main stand is one of the things I like best about “The Crops”. In the clubhouse Tottenham are still on the telly and they’re still losing. To celebrate I order a glass of Rose and a pint of Adnams Ghostship (£7.90 for the two); disappointingly the Ghostship is of the fizzy variety, but at least it’s not Greene King.

Drinks in hands we step back outside and sit at a “Yogi Bear–style picnic table”, I order a sausage roll (£3.50) from the ‘tea-hatch’. £3.50 might seem a lot for a sausage roll but there is more sausage meat in this sausage roll than in all the sausage rolls ever sold by Greggs put together; and this is real sausage meat, not a weird pink paste. I exaggerate perhaps, but not much. In truth, there is perhaps so much sausage meat that I would recommend bringing a small selection of pickles to help it down and add further to your enjoyment.

A steady stream of locals and visiting Felixstowe supporters make their way to the clubhouse from the turnstile and car park beyond, along the concrete path. Eventually I finish my sausage roll and we decide to take shelter from the sun in the shade of the main stand, which the Coggeshall Town website tells us was erected in 1964. We find seats near the middle of the stand at the very back, two seats behind Keith and Jim, who are in the front row and kindly share their team sheets with us.

Keith and Jim went to watch Colchester United play Grimsby Town yesterday; Keith nearly fell asleep he tells us. A friend of Keith and Jim arrives and hands out bars of chocolate, explaining that he won’t be at the game next week.

The teams are announced over one of the clearest sounding PA systems I have ever heard at a football ground and the teams line-up for the ritual shaking of hands; “See, home team on the left, away team on the right” points out Paulene, giving closure to a conversation we had over dinner a few days ago. It’s something I had never noticed, perhaps because I don’t care enough.

Coggeshall kick-off in the direction of the clubhouse and Braintree far beyond, wearing their red and black striped shirts with black shorts and red socks; it’s a fine looking kit. Sartorially however, Felixstowe do their best to match them with an attractive away ensemble of pale blue and white striped shirts with white shorts; if the two-teams swapped shorts and Coggeshall bleached their socks it would look like AC Milan v Argentina. Felixstowe, known as The Seasiders, aim in the direction of the car park and downtown Coggeshall, with its clock tower and the Co-op. Coggeshall, or The Seedgrowers as they are known informally are swift going forward and dominate the early stages.

Felixstowe don’t look much good. The play is rough and the Felixstowe No3, Henry Barley goes down two or three times, much to the disgust of some of the home crowd. “Pussy” shouts one, “Watch him, he doesn’t fancy it anymore” says the man next to me, “It’s a man’s game” calls another. “Erm no, Aussie Rules is a man’s game” says Paulene as a quiet aside, just to me. So far the game has mostly been Coggeshall’s Nnamdi Nwachuku and Michael Gyasi harrying the Felixstowe defence with their speed and nifty footwork. Seventeen minutes pass, Coggeshall piece together a few passes down the right and a cross finds No8 Tevan Allen; he is on his own at the near post. With time on his hands Tevan kicks the ball up in the air and then, as it drops back down to head height, executes a spectacular overhead kick sending it into the far corner of the goal. It is a remarkable goal, even more so if the initial kick up in the air was intended rather than being a case of not quite controlling the ball, but the latter sadly seems more likely. Tevan celebrates appropriately.

With the breakthrough made, Coggeshall will surely go on score more. But no, with the breakthrough made Felixstowe improve and begin to get forward themselves, often on ‘the break’ with their No9, the heftily built Liam Hillyard, a sort of non-league version of former Ipswich Town player Martyn Waghorn, making the runs into the penalty area. The game stagnates a bit as it becomes more even, with neither side playing particuarly well. The referee Mr Karl Sear makes himself unpopular with the home supporters because he doesn’t book any Felixstowe players, only talks to them, whilst also awarding Felixstowe several free-kicks, seemingly for not much at all.

My attention wanders and I admire a rusty hole in the corrugated iron roof of the stand; ventilation is just what’s needed on a warm day like today.
With a fraction more than five minutes until half-time, Liam Hillyard breaks down the right for Felixstowe, he confuses the Coggeshall defenders sufficiently to pass the ball across the penalty area to Henry Barley who looks to have taken the ball too close to goal before booting it high into the net from an acute angle. After the comments made towards him earlier, Henry Barley might allow himself a wry smile (geddit?).

Things look bleak for Coggeshall; having failed to make the most of their advantage they have now lost it. But football as a game apart from being old is nothing if not funny and soon The Seedgrowers win a free kick. The ball is struck hopefully into the penalty area, players jump and the ball hits random body parts, boots are swung in the direction of the moving ball but none makes proper contact, a Felixstowe player sends the ball towards his own goalkeeper, two Felixstowe defenders go to aim a kick but politely leave it to one another; tired and bemused by its long journey across the penalty area the ball gives itself up to a surprised Nnamdi Nwachuku who happily scores a close-range goal as ropey as the Seedgrowers’ first goal was spectacular. The goal is greeted almost with jeers and laughter, but it still counts and it makes Nnamdi and this little corner of Coggeshall very happy.
Half-time soon follows and we leave our seats; Paulene to use the facilities, me to take our coats back to the car, we really won’t need them today. “Are you leaving?” asks Keith. I reassure him that
I’ll be back for the second half.

Returning from the Citroen I meet my next door neighbour Paul and his eldest son Matthew on the concrete path as they head to the car park end that Coggeshall will be attacking in the second half. Paul has captured the glory of Coggeshall’s second goal on his mobile phone, I think the best bit is where the two Felixstowe defenders let each other boot the ball and neither does. On the grass bank below the concrete path is Colin with his wife Tessa and grandson Harvey and Paulene; I join them in the sunshine and eat a coconut based flapjack that I bought at the Co-op and on which the chocolate has melted. I get just four out of ten in the “Seedgrowers’ half-time quiz” in the programme; how is any one supposed to know that Jamie Carragher has the middle names Lee and Duncan? The second half begins.

The expectation amongst those around me is that Coggeshall will score a third goal, but it doesn’t happen. The game becomes niggly and fractious with lots of swear words; Coggeshall Town is the place to come for sweary football. I kick back and stretch out on the grass enjoying the warmth of the Spring sunshine and the stillness of the afternoon, the peacefulness only punctuated by angry curses from players and supporters and frantic scribbling in his notebook by referee Mr Sear who books six players, three from each team including both Coggeshall goalscorers. Some decent chances to score are missed by both teams and Felixstowe perhaps have the best ones, but if you’d never been to a football match before and had come along because you’d heard about “the beautiful game”, you’d think Pele was a liar. The final act sees Felixstowe’s Callum Bennet sent off by Mr Sears for a poorly thought-out tackle, although conveniently for Bennett he didn’t have far to go because he committed the foul quite close to the corner of the field and the steps to the changing room; so it wasn’t all bad.

With the final whistle I reflect upon what has been a beautiful afternoon in the sun before we head back to the clubhouse for another drink; it’s that kind of a day. I look out for Jim and Keith as the ground empties but don’t see them, I worry that Keith thinks I didn’t return for the second half, which would make me no better than Pele.

Heybridge Swifts 2 Grays Athletic 1


It’s a Spring-like Saturday in late March and there is just a week to go until the clocks go forward; there are tiny buds on the trees and although the sky is overcast the air smells fresh and clear.  Frogs are mating in my garden pond and frisky Collared Doves are settling on my satellite dish and messing up the signal.  It’s a beautiful day to make the twenty-odd kilometre trip by Citroen C3, past Feering to Tiptree and on through Great and Little Totham to Heybridge, a village of about 8,000 people on the north side of the River Blackwater from Maldon.  Until September 1964 it would have been possible to catch a train from Witham to Maldon East and Heybridge station, but the evil Dr Richard Beeching put an end to that and thoughtlessly condemned this corner of Essex to a future of increased traffic and air pollution.

Leaving the B1022 I turn left into Scraley Road, home of Heybridge Swifts Football Club.  Scraley Road is not an attractive name, it sounds a bit like Scaley Road and conjures up images of an unfortunate skin condition.  It’s only about two-thirty but the rough, unsurfaced car park is already full; happily there is an overflow car park about 50 metres along on the right, although for some people that’s too far and they have chosen to park at the side of the road.  The overflow car park is just a muddy track to the local rugby club but it’ll do and I pull up out of the mud and puddles onto a patch of lush grass to park the Citroen.   I walk back to football ground which, as a large sign tells me, is now known as the Aspen Waite Arena, which sounds extremely posh.  When did football grounds become arenas I wonder to myself; probably about the same time that ‘naming rights’ became ‘a thing’ I reply, but silently so as not to appear weird.   I cross the main car park to the black and white painted metal turnstile block avoiding more puddles and form a fledgling queue behind one other person, although I have to walk around two others who seem to be having difficulty finding their money.  Entry costs £10 for an adult and I ask for a programme too (£2).  “There you are dear” says the friendly lady turnstile operator, handing me a glossy programme and a small amber cloakroom ticket with the word ‘Adult’ on, which I soon lose.

From the turnstile I emerge directly into an open space behind one of the goals, to my left a blue polythene tunnel doesn’t quite make it from the changing rooms to the perimeter of the pitch, beyond that is a well populated open patch of grass behind which sit the clubhouse/bar and the tea bar.  I step inside the busy clubhouse but there’s no real ale on the bar, just the usual bland, mass-produced, heavily advertised fizzy stuff, so I head back outside to the tea bar to join a queue of one.  With the previous customer gone away clutching a burger and cup of tea I ask the smiley-faced young woman behind the counter if there are any sausage rolls.  There are and having found his oven gloves the ‘chef’, a more serious-faced, grey-haired man, takes a baking tray from the oven and prises a row of half a dozen sausage rolls from it with a spatula.  I pay the young woman (£1.50) and smiling she hands me one of the ‘released’ sausage rolls in a white paper napkin.   The sausage roll tastes much better for that smile but otherwise compares to one from Greggs, although not as greasy, which is a good thing.

I have time to wander around the ground and take in the architecture before the teams emerge from the blue polythene tunnel and line-up to say “hello” to one another;  as they do so the theme from ‘Z Cars’ plays over the public address system.  The music ends abruptly and the teams are announced very rapidly by a man inside a glass box in the middle of the Mick Gibson Family Stand.  This afternoon’s opponents are Grays Athletic.  As I drove here listening to BBC Radio Essex, the match was described as a ‘derby’ by a young-sounding presenter called Victoria. But given that all but six of the twenty teams in the Bostik Football League North Division there are from Essex there are rather a lot of ‘derbys’. 

The Swifts kick-off towards the First Call Community Stand and the River Blackwater and Maldon beyond; they wear black and white striped shirts with white shorts and socks, a colour scheme no doubt inspired by the colours of Apus Apus, the Swift, although seen up close Swifts are actually dark brown.   Grays Athletic meanwhile are in all blue with white sleeves and look a bit like Ipswich Town playing away to a team that wears white shorts; they are playing in the direction of the club house and Tiptree.   As much as  Grays might look like my team Ipswich Town and even though the legendary Fabian Wilnis played for them (33 times in 2008-09 season) I decide to support Heybridge Swifts today;  Swifts are my favourite birds because they remind me of warm summer evenings and Swifts is such a great if disappointingly rare name for a football club.  I grew up in Shotley  in Suffolk where the village team, now known as Shotley Rose after the village pub, were originally the Shotley Swifts; in the 1920’s my grandfather was on the committee and  I have a much-prized photo of him with the team posing with a trophy.

A long line of home supporters file from the clubhouse to the far end of the ground to stand behind the goal into which the Swifts are hoping to score.  The home team dominate the opening stages and have the first shot as the ball rebounds to their number seven the top-notch wearing Elliott Ronto whose shot is well saved by the Grays ‘keeper, the beautifully named Clark Bogard.   Although he sounds like a matinee idol, Clark is a large man who clearly does not possess a ‘six-pack’ and from a distance his all yellow kit would, for a short-sighted person, perhaps give the impression of a naked Homer Simpson.  Predictably the ‘wit’ of the home supporters is soon in evidence. “Come on Fatty” shouts an estuarine voice as Bogard lingers over a goal kick.  There is a rowdy atmosphere on the shallow covered terrace and two lads self-consciously bang a couple of drums, but not enough to really annoy anyone.  “ E’s only ‘ere for the after match meal” shouts someone else at the ‘keeper. “The food’s good here” responds Clark with a greedy expression, admirably entering into the fun.  “Ello princess” shouts a pre-pubescent lad following a strangely different tack.   A man in his sixties shuffles through the stand selling half-time draw tickets. “Afternoon Steve, Bob” he says to a couple of regulars.  I buy a strip of tickets, numbers 416 to 420 for a pound, I am not destined to win.

The name of Swifts’ Toib Adeyemi is an early entry in the notebook of the tall, elegant referee Mr Farai Hallam, but Swifts continue to get closer to the Grays’ goal than vice versa.  It’s a bit after a quarter past three and Grays number 11 Joao Carlos surges past the Swifts left-back and crosses the ball, it ends up in the Heybridge net and Grays are winning; it’s an own goal and is attributed to Swifts’ number nine Daniel Walker. “Come on you Swifts” is the not-downhearted response from the terrace of the First Call Community Stand.  A black-headed gull wheels above the pitch and disappears over the stand; I move from behind the goal to sit in the main stand, a structure with a row of tubular stanchions along its front, behind which the blue plastic seats have a shallow rake; it’s a classic non-league football stand in a classic non-league ground, a bit home-made looking and scruffy in places, but therein lies its character.  A German Shepherd and two other dogs that look like poodles but aren’t look on, although it’s doubtful they brought themselves here on their own. As the half wears on I move again, closer to the tea bar this time, and am now amongst the Grays Athletic supporters.  Grays are now doing better in terms of possession of the ball and are enjoying a few breakaways.  Number eleven Joao Carlos is a threat down the left, “Go on Carlos” and “Get in the fuckin’ box” shout the Grays fans, before Carlos is booked by Mr Hallam for diving. 

Half-time arrives a little late because of a few stoppages for injuries and I make the short walk to the tea bar but have to join a slow moving queue.  Behind me two men, a West Ham supporter and an Orient supporter talk about the Orient; the football club, not the far East.  The Hammers fan has a habit of finishing the O’s fan’s sentences, like in that sketch by The Two Ronnies, but not as funny. They agree that West Ham isn’t proper football anymore; this (Heybridge Swifts) is proper football.  Eventually my turn comes and I ask the smiley-faced young woman for a tea (£1); she’s still smiling and her smile can’t help but raise the spirits of Swifts fans unhappy that their team is losing.

I drink my polystyrene cup of tea as I take a look through the programme.   I read the thoughts of Swifts’ manager Julian Dicks which are plain and straightforward except for one sentence which reads “Then we gave away a free kick and no one stood on the ball and they popped the ball out and their forward hit a worldy.  He wont hit a ball like that again down hill with the wind behind and Chris had no chance”.  Sheer poetry.

It is five past four and with the start of the second-half I take up a place on one of the two rows of wooden benches in the Mick Gibson Family Stand.  There don’t seem to be any families in the stand although the rest of the ground is well peopled with mums and dads and children of all ages.  I wonder who Mick Gibson is or was and if the stand is just for his family.  The Swifts seem re-invigorated by their half-time tea and the words of Julian Dicks.  Firstly Manny Osei-Owusi gets wide and plays the ball back only for number four Nicholas Brown to skew his shot embarrassingly wide, but minutes later a corner is won, the ball is sent towards goal and repulsed, but only as far as  Toib Adeyemi who is on hand to send it into the goal from close range and the scores are level at one each.  The crowd cheers, although not as much as I thought they would, but then lunchtime and afternoon drinking does make you feel a little sluggish.

I make the same circuit of the ground that I made in the first-half enjoying the different back drops to the action on the field; bare trees on one side, 1960’s suburban houses on the other and blue skies and wispy cloud above.  The sun is now shining through the cloud and shadows of trees and the Mick Gibson Family Stand play across the pitch.  On the opposite side of the ground spectators shadows play against the corrugated metal boundary fence; it’s beautiful in a way that a football match inside a large stadium never can be.

I sit again in the main stand and catch half a conversation behind me as a man explains to his friend about a holiday or short-break he’s been on.  “They’re good hotels too, they suit me, know what I mean?” he says. I don’t know what he means, but then he wasn’t talking to me.  It’s about twenty five past four and the Swifts win a free-kick and rather unexpectedly their number eight, the ostentatiously named Jack Adlington-Pile scores with what might be termed a Jack Adlington-Pile driver, a thundering direct shot worthy of winning any game.   Unavoidably there is a bit more of a reaction to this goal as people voice a collective “Cor!”.   Grays are marshalled well by their imposing captain Stanley Muguo but they can’t get back in to the game and it’s the Swifts who come closest to scoring again as another free-kick, this time from number four Nicholas Brown defies the laws of physics by hitting the inside of a post and re-bounding out.  

As the match heads towards its conclusion Adlington-Pile and Luke Wilson get to see Mr Hallam’s yellow card, as disappointingly they attempt to hang on to the lead by foul means as well as fair.  Whilst the match remains interesting, Grays are just not good enough to score again and the fact that although only four places separate the teams in the league table, Swifts have nineteen, and now twenty-two more points tells a story.

With the final whistle the Grays Athletic players form a post-match huddle, perhaps to stem recriminations, whilst the Swifts enjoy a bit of a love-in with their justifiably appreciative supporters.  It’s been a good match, and arguably going a goal behind and coming back to win is the best sort of win there is.  Scraley Road, or the Aspen Waite Arena as it is known until someone makes a better offer, is a fine non-league ground even if they don’t serve proper beer and like Swifts on summer evenings I look forward to a return.  

Kirkley & Pakefield 0 Wroxham 0


tramway hotel

Once upon a time Kirkley and Pakefield were Suffolk villages, but they are now suburbs of Lowestoft on the south side of Lake Lothing.  Up until 1931 Lowestoft Corporation ran trams down to Pakefield terminating at the appropriately named Tramway Hotel; it’s a pity they don’t still run today and if only Lowestoft was in Belgium or France or Germany they probably would.   That aside, it’s a lovely rural train ride from Ipswich to Lowestoft and then a walk of over 3 kilometres or a ten minute trip on the X2 bus and then another five minute walk to get to Walmer Road, home of Kirkley and Pakefield Football Club.  But that all takes the best part of two hours and today I’m in a hurry to get home afterwards so I am making the 60 kilometre journey up the A12 by car.  Despite the small pleasure of opening up the throttle on my trusty Citroen C3 along the dual carriageway past Wickham Market, driving is nowhere near as much fun as sitting on the train, for a start everyone else on the road either drives too fast or too slow.   Also, unless I opt to eschew normal road safety and not look where I am going there’s much less to see from a car on the A12 too, perhaps with the exception of a brief vista of beautiful Blythburgh church across the marshes.

A quick glimpse of Woodbridge Town’s floodlights and road signs pointing the way to Framlingham and Leiston are tantalising reminders of senior football in east Suffolk as I plough on up towards Lowestoft listening to BBC Radio Suffolk’s ‘Life’s a Pitch’ on the Citroen’s radio. With its mix of decades old pop music and football talk with Terry Butcher and an otherwise anonymous pre-pubescent youth known only as ‘Tractor Boy’, whose presence is never really explained,  ‘Life’s a Pitch’ is a gently weird preamble for an afternoon of football.  Speaking directly from West Bromwich where Ipswich play today, former fanzine editor Phil Hamm mixes his metaphors delightfully as he speculates on whether Ipswich’s cruel defeat to Reading last week will have “knocked the stuffing out of their sails”.

It’s a very windy early Spring day and a heavy but short shower of rain sweeps across the road as I head out of Wrentham resulting in my arrival on the edge of Lowestoft being announced with a rainbow.   Passing Pontin’s Pakefield holiday camp I leave the modern A12 at the Pakefield roundabout and head down the old one, past the splendid Tramway Hotel and then take a left turn into Walmer Road and suburbia before making a final left turn towards the Recreation Ground.

It’s about twenty past two and the main car park is full so I splash my way into the pitted, puddled field that is the overflow car park at the north end of the ground and reverse up against the hedge in a spot where I won’t risk drowning as I step out of the car.

There’s no queue to get in the ground and at  the blue kiosk that looks like it might once have served a municipal car park in the days before ‘pay and display’, I say to the grey-haired man inside “One please, and do you do a programme?” .  Apparently the programmes are in the clubhouse.  I hand over a ten pound note; entry is £6 for adults and £4 for concessions.   I take my change unthinkingly and I now realise that the man on the gate must have thought I looked like a pensioner; my Ipswich Town season ticket is taking its toll.

I head for the clubhouse, with its deep, green felt roof topped off by a cupola it resembles a village cricket pavilion; it’s probably the most characterful club house in the Eastern Counties League. 

The inside bears little relation to the outside however and the ‘Armultra Lounge’ is decked out in a trendy grey colour scheme with matching leather sofas and oak-look laminate flooring.  I see a club official with some programmes and ask him if I can buy one (£1), he begins to direct me to someone else but then very kindly just says “Here, you can have this one on me”; what a lovely bloke.  Touched with the knowledge that people being kind and generous to other people is what life’s all about I celebrate with a bacon roll (£2.30) from the food hatch in the corner of the room.  It’s a very good bacon roll too; at first I am fooled by the roll having been toasted, into thinking it’s the bacon that is crispy, but actually it is anyway. I sit at a glass table on what looks like a tractor seat on a stick and eat the bacon roll and read the programme; I resist having a beer however because sadly the hand pumps on the bar are naked and the afternoon is windy enough without the terrible burps that a chilled glass of Greene King’s East Coast IPA nitrokeg would induce.  The programme tells me that Wroxham’s Sonny Cary is a “…gifted young football”.   I search for other amusing mis-prints but can’t find any.

As 3pm approaches I venture outside but not before pausing by the door where a man is donning his coat, scarf and hat; he tells me that the main stand on the other side of the ground is the best place to watch from, because it’s out of the wind.  I thank him for this insight and tell him I suspect that is where I will end up then.  Outside, a man well into his sixties is sat on a bench with a microphone in hand announcing the teams; in the strong, gusty wind he struggles to hold onto the sheet of paper from which he is reading and the rattle of the paper in the wind competes with his voice over the PA system.  

I am already on the far side of the ground as the teams come on to the pitch behind the referee Mr Luigi Lungarella who has an impressive shock of swept back dark hair.  Handshakes follow before the Kirkley & Pakefield huddle in a moment of team togetherness and the Wroxham players stand waiting as if to say “ Oh come on. Can’t we get on with this”.  Huddling over, Wroxham, known as the Yachtsmen,  get first go with the ball kicking it in the direction of  Lowestoft town centre and the fish dock; they wear a dull change kit of white shirts with bluey-grey shorts and socks.  Kirkley and Pakefield, known for some reason as The Royals, play towards Pontin’s and far off Southwold and wear the same kit as Brantham Athletic; all blue with two diagonal white stripes across their stomachs, as if the shirts had been left lying on the pitch when it was marked out.

Wroxham settle quickly and pin The Royals back in their half, their “gifted young football”, the red-headed and slightly spindly number ten Sonny Carey has their first shot on goal, but it’s comfortably wide.   Despite most of the game taking place in the Kirkley & Pakefield half Wroxham don’t come close to scoring and in a somewhat solid way the teams are evenly matched,  which is to be expected as they are fifth and sixth in the Eastern Counties Premier League table, both  with forty-nine points but with Wroxham having a better goal difference.  The game is characterised by effort, but more so by lots of shouting; it reminds me of a windy day in a school playground.   “Squeeze, squeeze” shouts the Wroxham ‘keeper George MacRae, perhaps feeling a little left out.  “Higher, higher.  Switch” he adds, trying to get involved.  Wroxham appear to have won the first corner, only to be denied by a raised flag denoting offside.   “ We in’t had a shot on gool  yit” says an old boy, one of a half a dozen stood against the rail along from the stand.  He asks the time, it’s about twenty past three. Attention seems to wandering.  “I see Bodyshop is closing” says someone else, although it probably won’t affect his shopping habits too much.  “There’s not a lot happening here” says the old boy “Though there’s a lot of ‘em in that fuckin’ dugout”.

At last Wroxham win a corner, but they take it short and I feel a bit let down. All that waiting for a corner and then it might as well have been a throw-in.  Everyone hates short corners, don’t they?   Kirkley & Pakefield’s number five Jack Herbert is spoken to by Mr Lungarella and Wroxham keep pressing. “He in’t got a left foot” someone says of Wroxham’s Cruise Nyadzayo as he keeps trying to cut inside on the left wing.  A few minutes later Nyadzayo switches to the right.  As Wroxham threaten the penalty area the ball is booted clear; “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring” calls a voice from the stand. “What’s your name, Pike?” says another, hopelessly and irrelevantly misquoting the famous lines completely out of all context.  People laugh nevertheless.

As the game edges closer towards half-time, Kirkley and Pakefield begin to frequent the Wroxham end of the pitch a bit more.  “We got a corner, bloody hellfire, but it took us half an hour to get et” is the assessment of one local. But all of a sudden real excitement breaks out as a header is cleared off the Wroxham goal line and then a shot from Jordan Haverson is kept out of the goal with a spectacular flying save from George MacRae, before play quickly moves to the other end and Cruise Nyadzayo dribbles through before having his shot saved at close range by Adam Rix, Kirkley & Pakefield pony-tailed goalkeeper

I move along the rail and stand near a couple of Wroxham supporters “ I think it could take me a couple of years to get the kitchen sorted” says the younger of the two as Kirkley & Pakefield prepare to take  a free-kick in a dangerous looking position, before winning a second corner.  It’s the final notable action and comment of the half and I return to the club house for a pounds’ worth of tea and to catch up on the half-time scores. Ipswich are losing but the tea’s just fine.

At two minutes past four Mr Lungarella blows his whistle for the start of the second half and Wroxham’s George MaCrae shouts “Squeeze” before the last note from the referee’s whistle is scattered by the wind.  Grey clouds are heaped up behind the main stand hiding a pale, milky sun.  Rooks are nesting high in the trees beyond the club house and a golden Labrador puppy is showing a keen interest in the game as he stands on his hind legs to watch over the rail.  I think to myself what a fine back drop to the game  the water tower at the  southern end of the ground makes.

The second half is played out more evenly across both halves of the pitch rather than predominantly in one half but neither goalkeeper has to stretch himself too much with virtually every shot being blocked or speeding past  the far post, as several low crosses do also.  The ‘star’ of the second half however is the referee Mr Lungarella who succeeds in making himself  equally disliked by both teams with a catalogue of unpopular decisions and a handful of bookings for Kirkley & Pakefield players.  “It was a corner ref. Ref! Ref! That was a corner” shouts one man from within the Russell Brown Community Stand behind the goal at the Lowestoft end of the ground after a goal kick is awarded. It’s almost as if he expects the referee to say “Oh, was it? Sorry. Okay then”.   It was a corner.  At the other end of the ground a Wroxham supporter is just as perplexed. “Fuckin’ guesswork” he says of Mr Lungarella’s decisions, before asking the linesman “Have a word with him will ya?”   The linesman replies, asking if he’d like him to speak about anything in particular.

– “About the rule book”

-“Well there isn’t one is there?” says the linesman mysteriously.

Mr Lungarella saves the best  until last and his piece de resistance comes with only a few minutes remaining.  As Kirkley & Pakefield’s Miguel Lopez stoops to head the ball, Wroxham’s Harley Black attempts to kick it with the inevitable and unfortunate consequences.  As the Kirkley & Pakefield ‘keeper discusses with a Wroxham fan behind the goal it was not intentional or malicious, just an accident. But not for the first time this afternoon Mr Lungarella’s interpretation of events differs to that of most people watching and Harley Black is sent off. Happily Miguel Lopez is not hurt and after a bit of TLC from the physio he carries on to see-out the end of the game, which soon arrives.

Despite some doubts surrounding some of the referee’s decisions the game ends amicably and Mr Lungarella leaves the field unmolested with his two assistants.  Equally, despite there having been no goals, it has been a very entertaining match.  Kirkley & Pakefield Football Club exists in the shadow of Lowestoft Town, perhaps more so than Ipswich Wanderers and Whitton United exist in the shadow of Ipswich Town, because both Lowestoft clubs are non-league, but it’s a fine, friendly little club nonetheless.  I have had a grand afternoon out at Britain’s second most easterly senior football club and one day, when I am in less of a hurry, I will use the train and the bus to get here; whilst also hoping they bring back the tram.

Brightlingsea Regent 1 Merstham 1

Until 1964 I could have journeyed all the way to Brightlingsea by train via Colchester and Wivenhoe, but the treacherous activities of the evil Dr Beeching mean that it is now necessary to leave the train at Colchester and then catch a number 62 bus. My excuse today for not using public transport is that the bus journey alone would take me the best part of an hour and it would also prevent me from stopping off on the way home to buy much needed mushrooms, salad and bananas at Waitrose. Today therefore I am making the 32 kilometre trip by Citroen C3 and saving the planet takes second place to future breakfasts, lunches and a boeuf bourguignon.
It’s a bright and blowy Saturday afternoon and wispy clouds scud across a pale blue sky. The B1029 twists its way across the flat lands of the Tendring peninsula and down into Brightlingsea from the north, past medieval All Saints Church with its impressive tower, sitting high on a hill outside the town; part place of worship, part lighthouse. Brightlingsea itself arrives as a sprawl of mid-twentieth century houses around a much older central core and a waterfront. I miss a turn, but having gone round the block I find my way. Residential North Road, all pebbledash and net curtains leads to Brightlingsea Regent’s home ground, currently called the Taydal Stadium, but more traditionally referred to as plain old North Road.
I reverse the Citroen into a space at the end of a line of other similarly neatly reversed family saloons. It’s a very short walk to the turnstile where I tender the correct money for entry and a programme (£10 + £2). Just inside and I am assailed by a lady with copper coloured haired selling draw tickets (£1 each); although not a gambling man I can’t help but feel it would be rude not to buy one, so I do. Come half-time ticket No372 will win, I’m sixteen tickets too late; if only I hadn’t missed that turning into Spring Road. It’s not quite twenty to three, so optimistically I think I might have a beer and therefore take a look in the bar; sadly there’s no hand pump, so I don’t bother; I can’t be doing with that cold stuff full of burps. At one end of the room however is a very brightly lit trophy cabinet which shines like a beacon and could easily attract magpies or ward off shipping from the mud banks in the Colne estuary; it has a slightly incongruous appearance in the otherwise very plain surroundings.
Back outside I seek out the ambience of non-league football. North Road is a hotch-potch of low stands and covered terraces confined within a steel fence backed up against the gardens of dull suburban houses. Beneath the cover outside the clubhouse people are eating chips from small polystyrene trays and drinking beer from plastic cups. The hatch in the club house wall beneath a sign that reads Regent Snacks is doing a steady trade.

Several free range children run about the stands and path around the pitch; today’s match is sponsored by the Brightlingsea Regent Youth Section which no doubt accounts for this. From the public address system, the names of the teams are announced. “First, the Mersham team” says the disembodied voice, mispronouncing the name of the visiting club and annoying at least one of their twenty or thirty supporters who are preparing to choose a goal to stand behind. As I drove to the ground this afternoon even the BBC Radio Essex announcer made the same mistake; I can only attribute this to being in a County where much of the population can’t pronounce the letters ‘th’ as anything other than an ‘f’ or a ‘v’, but ‘Mersfam’ would sound silly.

I take a walk around the perimeter of the pitch and then the teams emerge from the corner of the ground by the club house, walking in two neat lines behind the referee Mr Karl Sear and his leggy assistants Leo Del Rosso and Ashley Butler. The standard mass handshaking ensues before Merstham break from a team huddle to kick off towards a row of ugly bungalow roofs which form the backdrop to the goal at the clubhouse end of the ground. Merstham wear yellow shorts and socks with black shorts, whilst Brightlingsea sport a natty kit of black and red striped shirts with black shorts and red socks and kick towards the suburban back gardens of houses on Regent Road, one of which rather unexpectedly and splendidly has crennellations. It’s a colourful sight.
The opening minutes of the game see Merstham, who are third in the excitingly titled Bostik Premier League, but only five points ahead of twelfth placed Brightlingsea, spending as much time in the Brightlingsea half as Brightlingsea, but gradually the game evens out into an inconclusive midfield struggle. Brightlingsea have a shot cleared off the line which the home crowd are convinced was a goal. Fortunately there is no VAR to make shouting “Linesman, you’re useless” a redundant exercise, so somebody shouts it. On the covered shallow terrace behind the Merstham goal the self-styled Brightlingsea Ultras sing “Can you hear the Merstham Sing?” A respectable looking middle-aged woman quite quietly says “No swearing, please” and the Ultras complete their chant singing “I can’t hear (pause), anything, wo-oa, wo-oa-oah”.
I wander round to the dugouts, interested in what the coaches and managers are doing. The Merstham manager is smartly dressed in a mid-length, navy blue rain coat, shiny black shoes and neatly pressed trousers; he sips from what appears to be a paper cup of coffee, although I guess it could be super-strength cider, but that wouldn’t really fit the pattern established by his wardrobe. The Brightlingsea manager wears a woolly hat, trackie-bottoms and football boots; he glugs from a plastic water bottle which he chucks to the floor when he’s finished. This is the Surrey stockbroker belt versus Tendring. Merstham is on the edge of Reigate, a town 21st out of 401 in a league of average tax bills drawn up by Chartered Accountants Hacker Young for 2011-12.

“Go Manny” shouts the Merstham manager, not just when number eleven Emanuel Ighorea has the ball, but whenever anyone else does too. “Come inside, keep sucking it in” he adds complicating matters. His subsequent plea to “Get the ball” seems sensible if perhaps over simple. On the Brightlingsea bench there is the same concern for their number eleven, Harrison Banner. “Look at Banner, look at Banner!” is the exasperated call, followed by “For fuck’s sake” suggesting that if anyone did look at Banner they forgot to do anything else.

With half-time approaching I move on to behind the goal where the Merstham fans are congregated in a long line. Merstham enjoy a little flourish at the end of the half and all of a sudden number ten Fabio Saralva has the ball with no one much around him, he steps forward to the edge of the Brightlingsea penalty area before launching a shot into the top left hand corner of the Brightlingsea goal; ‘keeper James Bradbrook’s dive is despairing and Merstham lead 1-0 from a very fine looking goal. Understandably the Merstham supporters are thrilled by this event and I can’t deny being impressed somewhat too. I wander round past the players’ tunnel which looks like it might once have accommodated primates at Colchester zoo and wait just a few yards from the tea bar for half-time. The final action of the half sees referee Mr Sear wave his yellow card at Merstham’s number nine Walter Figuiera whom the referee has seemingly ‘had it in for’ all afternoon, to the extent of calling back play for a free-kick to Merstham as he was about to cross the ball. As the players leave the field for their half time cuppa the Merstham fans gather at the players’ tunnel and I add my voice to questions to Mr Sear about his attitude towards Figuiera; he doesn’t answer, confirming his guilt to my mind.

I queue for a cup of tea (£1.50) and consider why tea costs more the further up the football league pyramid one goes. I fish the tea bag from my cup and drop it in the bin next to the table on which the milk and sugar is placed. An elderly man with a flat cap and a stick tries to flick his teabag from his cup to the bin, but his tea bag falls on the ground with a wet splat. “That’s you out of the basketball team” I tell him, he smiles sympathetically. I stand my tea on the brick perimeter wall to allow it to cool. “Haringey are losing again” says an excited voice behind me “Potters Bar are winning at Worthing”. No one responds, but another voice declares that the hot chocolate is lovely. “Best in the league, since they cleaned the machine” says someone else. I look through the programme. It’s an attractive glossy publication and I am reminded why it is so disappointing that some clubs no longer produce one. Where else would it be possible to learn that Regent’s number nine Michael Brothers brings some “top banter” to the dressing room?
At four minutes past four the game resumes and Brightlingsea look to have had the more inspiring half-time team talk, getting forward more consistently than they managed before and they win a couple of corners. “Head it, head the ball” is the considered advice from the stands, as well as a more violent sounding “Attack it!” “Come on you R’s” sing the Ultras. At twenty past four a Brightlingsea corner is cleared but only to a point a few yards outside the penalty area from where it is lobbed high back towards the goal. Necks are craned but only Brightlingsea’s Jake Turner moves his feet and follows the flight of the ball and the two come together about five yards from the goal where he sweeps it unchallenged into the net past a surprised looking Amadou Tangara, the Merstham goalkeeper.
The remainder of the second half is more open than the first with both teams having chances as the sun is engulfed behind hazy cloud and the floodlights come on. Substitutions are made and the PA announcer attempts to induce excitement by lifting the tone of his voice on the final syllable of Clarke Gilbert, as he replaces Michael Brothers; it has no discernible impact. Having equalised, the urgency they had at the start of the half deserts Brightlingsea somewhat, but it remains an entertaining match. There’s a worrying few minutes late on however as Brightlingsea’s number seven Jordan Barnett appears to have some sort of fit after a collision with his own goalkeeper and after several minutes of uncertainty he is stretchered off.
Today’s attendance is announced as 231 and as the sun sinks towards the horizon the telephone wires across North Road are silhouetted through the descending gloom, looking a cat’s cradle. I stroll past the Merstham fans assembled behind the goal at the Regent Road end of the ground. “Come of Merstham” they shout. “Who’s that? Mersham?” I ask innocently. Happily they seem get the joke, I think. I head past the main stand towards the exit and with the final whistle am handily placed for a swift departure.
I make the short walk back to my trusty Citroen reflecting that I have not witnessed a classic match, but it has had its moments and the result is a fair one, which counts for something in this unfair world.  Waitrose awaits.