IpswichTown 1 Aston Villa 1

 

It’s a sombre August afternoon beneath overcast, grey skies; I walk to the railway station.  The heat and bright sunshine that greeted the first match of the football season have gone and with three games played Ipswich have still not won.  But it’s warm.20180818_125516_44115116991_o

On the platform at the railway station a poster entreats me not to get on the train if I feel unwell, but I’m okay, it’s too early in the season to feel ill at the thought of another match.   The train arrives and is a minute later than it was a fortnight ago; the timetable seems to have changed.  On the other side of the carriage sits a young woman with a flourish of wild blond hair and dark eyebrows. She checks her make-up using her mobile phone.  I look out of the window.

In Ipswich a group of Aston Villa fans look over the bridge parapet opposite the railway station; perhaps they will jump into the river below if their team loses, or maybe it’s just their way of joining in with Maritime Ipswich. Portman Road is busy with people indulging in pre-match hanging about; two lads, one in an Ipswich shirt, one in a Villa shirt create a pleasing tableau of inter-club friendliness beneath the statue of Sir Alf Ramsey.

I buy a programme (£3.00) and  walk on to St Jude’s Tavern where Mick has arrived, seconds before; he buys me a pint of Colchester Brewery Metropolis (£3.00), which I choose because of Fritz Lang’s 1926 film of the same name. Mick has a pint of peach flavoured beer, which he discovers he doesn’t really like (£3.00).   We sit at a small table, the only one that is free; the pub is busy.  We talk of football, of what my wife and I might do on a forthcoming trip to Paris, of how we perceive our lives and the reality of them, of what Mick will do now he has split with his partner of the past fourteen years and what he really does in his shed.  I buy a second pint of beer, Colchester Brewery Sweeney Todd (£3.00), whilst Mick has a half of Earl Soham Victoria Bitter (£1.50).

An hour gone and glasses drained we leave with a host of others bound for the match.  Mick and I part at the corner of Portman Road and St Matthews Street, he will be going to 20180818_153709_30246974478_oSainsbury’s.  Down in Portman Road there are queues for the turnstiles, which is surprising.  I assess which queue is shortest and join it, it is very short and I am soon inside the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand. I thank the turnstile operator, drain off some excess liquid and head for my seat near Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and who today has his son Elwood with him.  The teams appear to the strains of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, I don’t know why, but apparently people voted for it, like Brexit.

The game begins; Ipswich kicking off and playing towards me and Phil, Elwood and Pat.  20180818_161256_44065987012_oIpswich sport their new kit for this season; blue shirts with white sleeves evoking a memory of the shirts of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, but with added Addidas branded stripes in red to make sure we don’t miss them.  Ipswich’s Polish goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski looks like a huge ‘Mivvi’ in all-orange.  Aston Villa wear white shirts and maroon shorts and socks. Boots come in many colours, a rainbow of feet.

Inside Portman Road it is quite noisy today, mostly thanks to the 2,027 Aston Villa supporters but the Town fans are doing their best to contribute in a week when a new group of supporters ‘Blue Action’ has launched itself on social media with its stated aim to “…ignite and unite the support”.  Its name might sound like a washing powder but the aim of the group seems laudable provided nothing gets burnt.  The Villa fans sing a song about empty seats, which is hard to decipher and then their star player Jack Grealish falls to the ground, the first of many, many times which he will do this this afternoon; for someone with such big legs, he seems incredibly frail.  “He’s dead again” says the old fella behind me “Get up you creep” – well it sounded like creep.  Town’s Trevoh Chalobah then receives treatment after he is fouled and I have time to check on the buddleia on the roof of the stand; it’s still there.  In the first ten minutes ten free-kicks are awarded by referee Mr Tim Robinson for fouls.  Town manager Paul Hurst watches on, arms folded across his chest.  “Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you?” sing the Aston Villa fans.  It’s lovely of them to offer to do requests like that I think to myself, but then disappointingly they don’t bother; something from Bizet’s Carmen would have been nice.

It’s not 3.15 yet and Town’s Gwion Edwards hits the Aston Villa cross bar at the end of a flowing move across the pitch from one side to the other and back, which started with him dribbling the ball away from the Town penalty area.  This is the stuff.  Town fans sing and clap a bit, but not for long and within minutes Villa fans are chanting “No noise from the Tractor Boys”.  Then town have another shot, which bobbles past a post but then Aston Villa score; Ivorian Jonathon Kodjia being left to head in a cross.  The old couple behind me are amused by his surname which they pronounce ‘Codger’ as in ‘old codger’.  Very droll.

The game continues with free-kicks a-plenty as Aston Villa players seem keen to lay about on the turf whilst Mr Robinson seems keen to blame Ipswich players for this.  Town’s Tayo Edun does nothing more than collide with Villa’s Ahmed El Mohamady and is cautioned by the increasingly officious Mr Robinson.  Kodjia hits the Town cross bar with a header from the resultant free-kick.  When Gwion Edwards is then fouled and a free-kick awarded, the decision is greeted with a hail of ironic cheers from Town fans; it’s what we do best, sarcasm.   It’s about twenty five to four and a long throw falls to the feet of Trevoh Chalobah who turns and bounces a low shot just inside the goalpost and a little unexpectedly Town have equalised.

Things are looking up, but only temporarily as just two minutes later Tayo Edun is booked again by Mr Robinson for a foul and is therefore sent off.  Despite the scores being level, Aston Villa have looked the better team in the first half and with just ten players I feel that defeat for Town looks inevitable.  The Town supporters are not happy, but they seem to like it like that.  “You don’t know what you’re doing” they chant to Mr Robinson and “You’re not fit to referee”.  Kodjia goes down again under a challenge and receives treatment; “Get up ya pansy” shouts the old boy behind me, following it up with “What a bunch of pansies”.  The half ends in acrimony, which is always a good thing for the atmosphere at a football match.

Mr Robinson leaves the field guarded by stewards who happily can do nothing to protect him from the hail of vitriol and verbal abuse which is directed at him.  If he has any sort20180818_120714_42299377040_o of a heart he will hopefully sit in his little room and weep over his half-time tea whilst his two assistants ignore him and whisper between themselves.  I eat a Panda brand liquorice bar and chat to Ray who is not impressed and foresees defeat, although he considers the sending off to have been unjust.  I visit the latrines and beneath the stand people stare up at the TV screens replaying highlights of the first half.

With everyone refreshed the game begins anew.  The old girl behind me offers up her insight playing the part of the half-time TV pundit “Sometimes it’s harder to play ten men” she says sounding unconvinced by her own words. Following a pause she adds “Cos you don’t know where they’re going”.  As qualifying statements go it’s a poor one, but at least she realised one was needed.

Aston Villa begin the new half with even more resolve to fall over at every opportunity and Town’s St Lucian Janoi Donacien is soon cautioned by Mr Robinson, who shows no sign of having reflected upon his rank first half performance. Aside from ‘rank Robbo’ the villain of the piece this afternoon  is Jack Grealish who despite showing ample skill and poise on the ball mostly falls down  Bambi-like attempting to win free-kicks, which is a sad indictment of modern football and the reliance on set-pieces.  In ‘rank Robbo’ Villa have discovered a referee who loves to award free-kicks as much as they love to win them and he evidently has no understanding of the concept of players falling over on purpose to win free-kicks.

But despite the efforts of ‘rank Robbo’ and Jack ‘Bambi’ Grealish the game is overall an entertaining one and Ipswich overcome the handicap of having only ten players admirably.   Sunshine is breaking through the clouds and the crowd is engrossed in the game, but not so much that they don’t every now and then cheer and clap and behave like a football crowd should.  With about fifteen minutes to play Villa’s Irish substitute Conor Hourihane falls screaming to the ground in the Ipswich penalty area as if haunted by wailing banshees and he rightly incurs the displeasure of both Luke Chambers and Jonas Knudsen; his is the afternoon’s most blatant attempt at cheating.  Aston Villa then bring on the player with the most exotic name of the day, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy whose surname conjures up images of a triste between a sophisticated looking lady in a little black dress and a jobbing builder.

Jack ‘Bambi’ Grealish looks purposeful with the ball at his feet but with his slicked back hair and confident air he possibly believes he is better than he is and with time running out and Villa encamped around the Town penalty area he carefully picks out the perfect pass to the only Villa player in an offside position.   Grealish should really have worn a dark cape, black hat and grown a twirly waxed moustache for today’s game, although he might have had to fight ‘rank Robbo’ for it, which would have been an entertainment in itself.

With the final whistle a great cheer goes up, which is not really commensurate with a home draw, but today it feels like Town have won because it has been achieved in adversity against a club which is expected to be challenging for promotion and is still profiting from Premier League ‘parachute’ payments.  As befits a team managed by 5’5” Paul Hurst, today Town have played the ‘little guy’ and have come through.  I stay to applaud and although Town have now gone four games without winning, this game was well worth being at.  Perhaps our first win will be against Norwich City in a fortnight’s time.

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Colchester United 2 Coventry City 1

After a hard day at work (7 hours 24 minutes) there’s nothing like getting home to your wife, husband  or partner on a winter’s evening to enjoy an aperitif, a good meal and a relaxing evening of engaging conversation.  But tonight I have worked almost eight hours, caught a later train and now find myself on the cold, dark, traffic-dominated concrete forecourt of Colchester railway station leaning into a drizzle filled wind as I head for The Bricklayers Arms as a precursor to a bus ride out to the Weston Community Homes out in the middle of nowhere Stadium and an evening of fourth division football.

In the Bricklayers there are just a handful of drinkers, perhaps because it’s not yet six o’clock.  I buy a pint of Colchester Brewery Number One (£3.50) and settle down at a small table to read a couple more chapters of W Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage; I’ve been reading it for weeks.  A man called Mike and his grand-daughter walk in, he says hello and I reciprocate.  The Bricklayers is under new management and seems brighter and somehow larger than before, I like it but they have been unable to resist having inane words in different fonts painted on the walls –   “Menu, Share, Full Flavour, Experience, Greatness Awaits.”  They forgot “Huh?”, but at least the beer is bit cheaper than it used to be.

 

  Someone says it’s quiet because the trains are not running; there’s been ‘a jumper’ at Kelvedon.  The barman, with no one to serve, obsessively wipes down the bar.  There’s a group of four men who seem to be from out of town, well one of them has Scottish accent, and they sit and pore over the menu before discovering that food isn’t served on Tuesdays.  As they leave one of them says “We’re going pizza then are we?”    I return to the bar as the first appreciable numbers of patrons, mostly men going to the match arrive and stand in groups; I have a pint of Colchester Brewery Sweeney Todd (£3.50).  At length I finish another chapter, drain my glass and head for the bus.

It’s still wet outside and the soft lighting inside the buses gently illuminates the dull street; I pay my fare (£2.50 return) and head upstairs to the front of the empty top deck; car brake lights and yellow street lights glow psychedelically  through the misted up, rain spotted front window of the bus.  I eat a Ginster’s pasty that I’d bought earlier (£1.50 from Sainsbury’s); it’s strongly flavoured but the packet tells me that despite being ‘The Nation’s Favourite’ it contains just 14% ‘quality beef’. It doesn’t clarify whether that’s good or poor quality; the two large pieces of gristle I chew on don’t suggest the former.  The bus fills up and a bunch of middle-aged Coventry fans join me, still enjoying the thrill that we got when we were young, riding up at the front.  I ask one about the recent travails of their troubled club, but wish I hadn’t, because he goes on a bit.  I’m interested, but don’t want to write a thesis on it.  I’m not proud of this so don’t admit to my slightly ghoulish desire to see Coventry City, a club who were in the First Division for 34 years, playing in the Fourth Division. It’s morbidly fascinating, like having seen Simon Dee signing on.

 

The bus lurches, growls and hisses its way through the wet streets to the stadium where everyone politely alights thanking the driver for delivering us safely.  The stadium lights penetrate the gloom, casting angular shadows beyond the spiky stands. It’s only twenty five past seven so I take a wander around the ground to take in the ambience.  I love floodlights. It’s bleak and open out here, even more-so on a wet and windy night like this and people scurry towards the turnstiles appearing and disappearing between the shadows.  Across the A12 the jaundiced neon of the McDonald’s arches glows brightly.  Feeling cold I head for the warmth of the club shop from which a toy Eddie the Eagle stares blankly into the night.  The shop is virtually empty of customers; children have long spent their Christmas money and it seems no one wants a Colchester United air freshener, tea towel or pencil tonight.  I buy a programme, but outside from one of the cold and wet, windswept vendors.

 

As I join the three person queue at the turnstile a steward asks what I have in my bag and I try and make it sound interesting as I tell him about my umbrella and Kindle; he takes a look but mostly has a feel as if playing one of those party games where you have to pull out particular objects from a sock.  A female steward in a fluffy bobble hat asks me if I have any games. “What, like Snakes and Ladders or Ludo?” I say, bemused.  “No, on your Kindle” she says.   I didn’t even know you could have games on your Kindle. “You can read my book, if you want” I tell her as the turnstile beeps and I enter the stand, not really knowing if she would like W Somerset Maugham.  I reduce my liquid content and then take my seat, which appropriately is in Row P.

The pitch looks soft and muddy and Coventry City kick-off the playing towards the South Stand, Severall’s and the town far beyond.  Coventry wear their customary all-pale blue kit, not for nothing are they known at the Sky Blues.  Colchester United sport blue and white striped shirts and white shorts with beautiful blue and white hooped socks which look a treat. The drizzle sweeps across the pitch from east to west, visible only in the glare near the lights and unseen on the ground.

It’s a good game, Coventry try a couple of shots and then Colchester take over a bit, their number 20 Courtney Senior darting forward and repeatedly feinting to the right before running off to the left past hapless Coventrians.     In the seventh minute, as if to announce that they’d now got a quorum, the few hundred Coventry fans up the corner near the A12, somewhat surreally burst into a chorus of the Eton Boating Song.  It’s not because of the ‘jolly boating weather’ or being Old Etonians, but rather because when Jimmy Hill took over the club in the 1960’s, taking them for the fourth to the first division he wrote new Coventry-centric lyrics to make it the club song.  I always thought Jimmy Hill was a bit odd.  Now Jimmy is dead and Coventry City are back in the fourth division, but the song remains the same and they’ve brought their modern folk music with them to soggy Colchester.

People around me are getting involved in the game, some cuddle up for warmth , others are in fancy dress.  A free-kick is given to the Coventry goalkeeper after he’s challenged by a Colchester player, “How the fuck does that work?” queries a voice behind me. A dog’s bark echoes from the dark corner between the stands; there are two policemen with police dogs watching the game, the dogs turn around as if to ask “Who said that?”   The drizzle has draped itself over the walls of the concrete vomitoria in the west stand.  At the back of the stand a man talks loudly with occasional calls of “Come On U’s”.  He  sounds a bit like Harry H Corbett and in my mind I imagine he looks like Oliver Reed; I turn around to look, but can only see Roy Cropper from Coronation Street.

 

Twenty-six minutes have passed;  a couple of legs or feet trail and snag and courtesy of the interpretation of referee Mr Busby, Colchester have a penalty; Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe scores, they deserve it and possibly more goals, but 1-0 is still the score at half-time.  I go under the stand to escape the chill and release some more what’s become of the output of the Colchester Brewery.  The refreshment counters are doing a good trade tonight and there’s an intensity about the staff in their blue schoolboy caps as they dole out the over-priced, plastic wrapped, processed fare.  I flick through the match programme which is boring and too inoffensive for my taste.  I like the page on local football however and in particular the words of FC Clacton manager Kieron Shelley who is quoted as saying “I still believe this team is good enough to compete – may be not at the top of this league or even the middle but certainly within this league”.  I like to think he paused for a long time after he said certainly and perhaps went “…erm…”.

 

Within ten minutes of the game re-starting a newly galvanised Coventry City equalise as Tom Bayliss smacks the loose ball high into the middle of the goal from the edge of the penalty box.  The Eton Boating Song is heard again and I wonder what Captain Algernon Drummond, who wrote it back in the 1870’s would have made of Jimmy Hill and Match of the Day. As a riposte to the glorious swell of the boating song the Colchester fans respond with a Welsh hymn tune and sing “We forgot that you were here”.  I don’t know where they thought they had gone, to chapel perhaps.   Not to be out done the Coventry fans respond with “You’re not singing anymore” to the same tune and from behind me Roy Cropper booms “Shut up you Black Country tossers” showing off his knowledge of geography, but perhaps a lack of singing talent and vocabulary.  A youth in front of me finds it amusing though.

Coventry are having the better of the second half and I sense that Colchester might rue not scoring more than once when they were the better team.  The managers of both teams hop about in their ‘technical areas’ looking like they may also have been processing the products of the Colchester Brewery; and it is a cold night.   Colchester bring on their substitutes and Coventry introduce a man with three surnames, Johnson Clarke-Harris, a name which the Coventry fans quickly put to music covering the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.

The drizzle has stopped, but the cold is deepening and the damp is penetrating my bones.  My ankles and knees feel like pins are being pushed into them, my nose is numb and I sense an iciness crystallising around the very depths of my soul.  It’s the 88th minute of the game and just then Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe crosses the ball from in front of me,  Mikael Mandron leaps majestically in the centre of the penalty area, turns his head to divert the path of the ball, sending it firmly into the  bottom corner of the goal net. A goal, and Mandron salutes the crowd, before disappearing into a blue and white striped human hill, which includes mascot Eddie the Eagle.  Joy abounds.

After four additional minutes Mr Busby blows conclusively, Colchester win, Coventry lose and my circulatory system stutters back into life as I head for the bus and my lonely spouse.

 

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