Ipswich Town 1 Crewe Alexandra 0

I first saw Crewe Alexandra in January of 1983 in a Friday night fourth division match at Layer Road, Colchester. Crewe lost 4-3.  Watching fourth division football was a release from the tension of following a declining Ipswich Town in our first season without Bobby Robson as manager and without the saintly Arnold Muhren in midfield.  The fourth division was fun and my friend Stephen and I had adopted Colchester United as our fun ‘second team’, although Stephen also professed a liking for East Stirling, and as we drove down the A12 we would add to our amusement by making up deprecatory poems about Col U’s opponents.

What are you gonna do

Crewe

when we beat ya four-two

Crewe

We’d rather watch Scooby-Doo

Crewe

Than watch you

 Crewe

It explains why your supporters are so few

Crewe.

We were young and didn’t know any better, although I still believe beat poetry has a place in professional football.  Back in 1983 Crewe Alexandra were perennial strugglers and were destined to finish the season twenty-third in the twenty-four team fourth division, one place higher than they had finished the season before; they had finished bottom and second from bottom in 1979 and 1980 too, whilst Ipswich were making hay whilst the sun shone at the other end of the Football League. Times change.

Today it’s a grey, cloudy day and rain streaks the windows on the back of my house blurring and obscuring the views of the garden and turning every window into a bathroom window.  I log onto the ifollow in time to hear the names of today’s virtual mascots, it’s like Junior Choice but without Sparky’s Magic Piano, and Brenner Woolley has replaced Ed Stewart, which is just as well given that Ed died in 2016.  “Alongside me” says Brenner is Mick Mills. Good old Mick.

Kick-off is nigh, but the novelty of the new Saturday afternoon routine of football on the radio or the ifollow has begun to wear off and lose its lustre. Attempting to re-invigorate it I have foregone my usual pre-match ‘pint’ and today I am sticking up two fingers to those of the football licensing authorities who would crush our enjoyment and am pouring a ‘pint’ (500ml) of Adnams Broadside which I will proceed to drink during the game and in sight of the pitch.

The game begins with Brenner telling me that it is Crewe that are kicking-off and playing from right to left.  Brenner draws our attention to Omar Beckles because he used to play for Shrewsbury Town under former Town fuhrer Paul Hurst and alongside Jon Nolan and Toto Nsiala.  I recall the 2018 League One play-off final in which Beckles was terrible; but on the plus side his surname sounds like a Suffolk town and his first name reminds me of the marvellous HBO tv series The Wire.  The referee is Mr Trevor Kettle, which is also a great name, for a bloke with a whistle.  Brenner adds even more biographical detail for the Crewe team, telling us that number nine Mikael Mandron used to play for Colchester United.  Brenner surpasses himself referring to Mandron the next time he touches the ball as “The big Frenchman”. Mandron was indeed born in Boulogne and amusingly, on his Wikipedia page under the heading ‘Personal Life’ all it says is that he “…supported Real Madrid when growing up, while he also followed the results of Paris Saint-Germain.” What a fulfilling life he must have outside football.

 In the absence of any decent on-pitch action from Town Brenner reveals that Town manager Paul Lambert is stood with “…arms folded, in his black overcoat”.

Fifteen minutes pass and as an Ipswich supporter I am not enjoying the match; Crewe are selfishly keeping the ball to themselves most of the time, whilst Ipswich rarely have possession in the Crewe half of the field.  A caption appears in the corner of the screen revealing that possession of the ball is 57% to 43% in Crewe’s favour.  “Crewe the better side, at the moment” says Brenner honestly, but offering hope that things can change.  I don’t know if it’s the feebleness of Town’s performance that’s getting me hot under the collar or if I’ve got the radiator turned up too high but I’m feeling warm and am compelled to take off my jumper uncovering  my “Allez les Bleus” T-shirt beneath.

Crewe’s Ng has a shot which Brenner tells us Tomas Holy “throws his cap on”, although given the weather today he would have done better to have worn a sou’wester.  Over twenty minutes have passed and Gwion Edwards has Town’s first shot at goal, if you exclude Andre Dozzell’s hopeful punt which hits a Crewe player before it has travelled a yard, which I do; Gwion’s shot travels harmlessly wide of the Crewe goal.  Eight more minutes pass and Tomas Holy blocks a shot from Crewe’s Lowery who is unmarked about six metres from the goal; Lowery should probably have scored.  Such is the absence of any decent play from Town that Brenner and Mick begin to talk about the weather.  Mick starts it, making just a passing reference, but Brenner picks it up and carries on “…it has been terrible weather hasn’t it” says Brenner, sounding like a housewife chatting with her neighbour over the garden fence.

There are ten minutes until half time and the ifollow stutters, a quadrant of a circle flashes on the screen and play stands still.   The picture moves, and then stops again and does so three or four times more.  The feed returns in time for me to hear Brenner listing Town’s forthcoming fixtures, the last of which is against Crawley Town in what Brenner reveals is now called the Papa John’s Trophy, a sponsorship deal with the takeaway pizza provider having been announced by the EFL during the week.  Clearly the EFL have been holding out for a sponsor whose name does this hopelessly compromised and debased competition justice.

On the pitch things don’t improve “We’re just watching the game at the moment” says Mick, not of Brenner and himself, but of the Town team. Half-time arrives as a blessed relief but as the teams leave the field the ifollow pictures show that Paul  Lambert is not sporting an overcoat as Brenner had described earlier but is actually wearing an anorak or a parka.  This not only calls in to doubt Brenner’s knowledge of jackets and outer garments, but also for a man who earns his living from painting an aural picture of what he sees before him, his inability to accurately describe a coat has shaken my faith in the accuracy of his commentary.  Seeking solace in tea and nut based snacks I put the kettle on and unwrap a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.

At four minutes past nine the game resumes on the ifollow.  The pictures are soon interrupted by buffering and I miss Town winning a corner and then another.  Six minutes pass “This is a different game so far second half” says Mick, not quite forming a proper sentence but making himself understood nevertheless.  Mick is right, as he so often is.

Andre Dozzell is booked for the fifth time this season, which is an incredible feat for a player of his supposed ability; he needs to learn how to tackle or not bother.   Oliver Hawkins has a diving header saved by the Crewe goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen.  Town are no the longer the feeble team they were in the first half, but Crewe haven’t given up just yet and construct another intricate passing move “Almost gymnasium football that they play” says Mick. “Yes, almost 5-a-side” says Brenner clarifying the matter for those listeners who might be sat at home wondering what the hell ‘gymnasium football’ is.

It’s the 62nd minute. Town win a corner; it is taken short, little Alan Judge crosses the ball and big Oliver Hawkins heads the ball into the goal.  Despite having not played as well as Crewe for most of the past hour, Ipswich are winning.  My happiness is tempered within ten minutes however as without warning the ifollow goes completely berserk and transports me back to the 55th minute and I get to see Andre Dozzell being booked for a second time.  The only good thing is that he’s not sent off, but I quickly realise that I can fast forward to the present day and catch up in time to see Kayden Jackson replace Oliver Hawkins.

  Crewe make two substitutions replacing Owen Dale and the “Big Frenchman” with Daniel Powell and Chris Porter and the balance of the game swings back in Crewe’s favour. Town are forced to defend for much of the last fifteen minutes. “ McGuiness makes one of his customary leaps” says Brenner growing tired and Wintle shoots from distance, his shot going “…down the throat of Holy”.

The ifollow starts playing up again with more buffering and Brenner and Mick’s commentary takes on the character of a tribute act to Norman Collier.  Service is restored with the good news that  Leiston, Lowestoft, Needham and Felixstowe are all winning their respective FA Trophy ties.  It’s a quarter to five and I turn the kitchen light on to create my own little homespun version of floodlit atmosphere.  Keanan Bennetts replaces Freddie Sears, and Brenner refers to Tomas Holy as “The giant Czech keeper”.  Kayden Jackson is booked for idiocy and Gwion Edwards is booked too, but for Andre Dozzell style tackling.  Brenner adds colour to the grey afternoon and his commentary for the benefit of radio listeners describing “Ward just drying the white ball on his blue jersey”.

There will be five minutes of added time for assorted delays and possibly the ifollow buffering.  Crewe continue to press for an equaliser; “This is a bit awkward to watch Mick” says Brenner seeking support from his side-kick whilst audibly squirming in his press box seat.  More bad news for Mick is that Boris Johnson’s planned broadcast to a disinterested nation has been delayed until 6.30 and therefore the post-match phone-in will take place.  As Brenner unfeelingly tells him, Mick can’t go home early but must “…do a full shift”.

At last the game ends with Town blagging their way through the remaining minutes and even succeeding in retaining possession for a short while to frustrate their opponents.  Brenner asks for Mick’s summary “We’d not be telling the truth if we said Ipswich deserved to win the game” says Mick almost apologising for what he is saying as he says it.  But he’s right, even though trying to play decent football in the third division is possibly doomed to failure. 

Mick’s thoughts are abruptly cut short as the ifollow feed ends and I am left alone in my kitchen trying to think of words that rhyme with Brenner.

Colchester United 0 Portsmouth 4

It’s the 11th of March and today there is a hint that Spring is springing into life. Frogs are clambering over one another in an orgiastic frenzy of amphibious, reptile love in my garden pond and standing outside I can actually feel the warmth of the sun on my face and arms. It’s Saturday morning and life is sweet. A car ride, a train ride , a few glasses of Adnams Old Ale in the Bricklayers Arms (£3.65 a pint) and a bus ride (£2.50 return) later and I, along with my Pompey supporting wife and Jon, a Leeds United supporting neighbour who wants to know what it’s like to be amongst Pompey fans, am at the Weston Homes Out in the Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium.
On this March afternoon being in the north stand with the Pompey supporters OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwas a joyous celebration of their club, city and football. This was the first time I had ever been in a full stand at a Colchester game in their ‘new’ stadium and it was a slightly odd experience. The gate of 6,504 is Colchester’s second largest crowd of the season ( although the 7,003 v Leyton Orient was made up of loads of flippin’ kids) and easily double the number that usually attend this stadium which could readily be converted into an A12 service station should its current occupant’s ever leave. Despite having a majestic away following of some 2,200 or more, Pompeyites did not make up the majority in the stadium but it felt like they did. It seemed that Colchester supporters were in awe, struck dumb, incapable of getting behind their team. But then, they were spread about three stands when Pompey’s supporters were mostly all in just one.
Every Pompey away game in Division Four must to an extent feel like a home game because there are so many tiddly little clubs in the division, so tiddly you wonder how they manage to maintain professional football. With clubs such as Barnet, Accrington and Morecambe in the division Pompey can’t help but outnumber the supporters of a lot of them and where that isn’t the case they will almost inevitably make more noise than the home support. Going to away games is one of the great joys of being a football supporter; it’s a day out loaded with a morning full of anticipation, the excitement of arrival, followed by the shared experience of the pre-match drink with other supporters and finally getting into the stadium; and that’s all before the match even begins. Sometimes, the match beginning is where it all goes wrong if your team let you down, but it didn’t feel like there was any risk of that today. Despite a miserable performance at home last Saturday, Pompey had won away in midweek at Crawley Town (another tiddler of a club) and had at last moved into an automatic promotion position in the league table.

It’s a good view from all the stands at the new ‘Layer Road’OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwith the steep rake of the seating giving a clear line of vision all over the pitch, so there is no real reason to have to stand. But a big following of away fans are often too excited or excitable to even consider sitting down and although club stewards are charged with ensuring everyone is safely sat on their bottom, two dozen stewards are outnumbered a hundred to one and they quickly realise there is no point. A large away support is a draw for the home fans too, because even if they don’t participate themselves they can enjoy the atmosphere created by the noise and exuberance at the other end of the ground.
In terms of attracting spectators Colchester are currently on the crest of a slump with barely 3,000 turning out for the supposed ‘derby’ match against Wycombe a couple of weeks before. The sense of unfamiliarity with their surroundings must have transferred itself from those extra Colcestrians to the Colchester team because they were rubbish. Either that, or they weren’t rubbish and Pompey were absolutely brilliant; the truth surely lies somewhere in between, as it so often does.
Portsmouth scored after about twenty minutes at the Colchester end of the ground; a ‘stooping header’ of the kind favoured by very tall players one would imagine. The scorer Eoin Doyle OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA is probably only average height for a footballer though. You’ve got to love a ‘stooping header’, of all headers they are my favourite, although a towering header is more beautiful and for rarity value a crouching or squatting header would be worth seeing.
Once ahead, and with their oh so happy fans behind them like a fair wind, nothing could go wrong for Pompey, if the navigators amongst us had employed our sextants we would have seen that it was written in the stars. Once John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood, probably Europe’s best known football fan arrived with his drumming entourage, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

the noise and encouragement for Pompey was ceaseless. Half- time was as a blessed relief for Colchester as it was for those in the stands with full bladders. ‘Down below’ the bars and the bogs were thronged and a poster on the breeze block wall of a vomitorium (look it up) thanked Pompey fans for travelling 288 miles to make their visit to day; I felt a bit of a fraud, I would only travel about 15 miles and be home before six.
Refreshed, re-focussed and re-vitalised after the half time-break, Colchester United went 2-0 down within 90 seconds of the re-start as Kyle Bennet, who had sensibly abandoned his ‘little fish’ style haircut of last week by removing its tail, completed a move which left the U’s defence in ruins. That set the pattern for the second half with waves of Portsmouth attacks crashing on the beach in front of the Pompey fans that was the Colchester goal. This was like a glorious day at the football seaside for Pompey’s fans; if the pitch had been sanded they would have made metaphorical castles of celebration and stuck little flags with the Pompey crest in the top of them.
Two more goals followed as Pompey steamed on to leave Col U in their wake. Four-nil up with twenty minutes left it looked like Pompey would score five or six. Pompey fans filled the area in front of the seats and the stewards lined the edge of the pitch and looked nervous. Mr Westwood occupied a platform at the back of the stand in the manner of Ralph Reader back in the days when FA Cup finals were wonderful, before the Premier league had him killed. In his crooked blue and white top hat and blue and white dreads Westwood blew his trumpet and waved his arms deliriously. One fan ran on the pitch when the fourth goal went in. Later the stewards somehow allowed another very large man to get over the perimeter wall and walk amongst them; as they led him away holding tightly on to his arms, he lifted his legs off the ground so they had to carry him, you could see he felt like he was king for a day; his team were 4-0 up he could do anything he wanted.
Full-time was almost a disappointment, it confirmed the result but stopped the fun; the party was over, but when I drove past the stadium the next day I could still hear the cheering… though today it was actually my wife in the passenger seat.

Colchester United 2 Crawley Town 3

Emerging from Colchester station I crossed through a queue of cars and coughed a little at the  fumes left hanging in the evening air. It was cool, it was mid- February, man. Valentines day and my wife had stayed in with Adrian Rabiot and Marco Verrati.  A hoarding announced that a brick brutalist building (if that is possible), former offices overlooking the railway,  is being converted into flats, Station Court it will be called, what a lovely name, only one down from Station Mews. I felt a little sick, it may have been those fumes, but was more likely the two Greggs sausage rolls eaten on the train from Ipswich. Note to self, never buy a Greggs sausage roll again, they only cost a pound each for a reason.

The Bricklayers Arms is a satisfyingly short walk from Colchester station and with a pint of Adnams Old Ale for £3.65 I sat down at a round table to sup and read. I was one corner of a triangle with two empty chairs, no one asked if they were free, the pub wasn’t that busy.  I am reading a book entitled ‘The Numbers Game – Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong’ and soon I am going to catch a bus to see Colchester United play Crawley Town in what I call Football League Division Four.  I am not a football obsessive though, in fact I hate the bloody game and later I am going to write a fucking blog about it.

There were only two other people on the top deck of the bus to Layer Road (£2.50 return fare), or the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium as I believe it is more properly known.  Lonely and scared I spoke to them; one was an occasional  Crawley Town follower who only began to take an interest when they were drawn against Manchester United in the FA Cup; he knew nothing about their players but nevertheless liked the club and wore the scarf, he was like a reverse Manchester United fan, I thought he was laudable.  His companion was in IT and had worked for Ipswich Town (haha ITIT) during the George Burley and David Sheepshanks era, but left disillusioned by the budget cutting Marcus Evans. What is Marcus Evans up to at Ipswich?

Having resisted the temptation to buy a cuddly Eddie the Eagle mascot in the club shop I queued for what must have been seconds to get into the stadium where I immediately met a lady steward I know, we hugged; I felt blessed, all football supporters should get a hug from a steward I thought (if they want one) , a sort of apology for that frisking and request to look in your bag.

After urinating in a slightly smelly and drafty room of shiny steel troughs and breeze blocks I sat down in time to hear the stadium announcer tell us that Owen Garvan would be wearing the two little ducks shirt; although he actually said twenty-two.  Owen Garvan played for Ipswich Town, I am an Ipswich season ticket holder, Roy Keane sent Owen Garvan away to Crystal Palace, I liked Owen Garvan, I hate Roy Keane.

The Jam’s A Town Called Malice played on the public address, was it a reference to Colchester or Crawley?  The ‘real’ Eddie the Eagle mascot did a Mick Jagger impression to a Rolling Stones tune and the scoreboard advertised a night out at the stadium to see the Rollin’ Clones, a tribute act .  I wondered if it would be possible to clone Keith Richards or has his DNA been irreparably damaged like his face.

Yay, the game had started.  George Elokobi was playing for Colchester and looked a different shape to when I had last seen him play for Braintree Town; was he slimmer or was he wearing a truss?  For one moment the floodlights refelected so brightly off the head of Crawley’s Kaby Djalo  I thought he was sporting a Davy lamp, he wasn’t.  A Colchester player jumped at a Crawley man, falling over him as he followed the trajectory of the ball; free-kick to Crawley, “e’s given it the uvverway” moaned the bloke in front of me expounding his ongoing critique of the referee Lee Collins.   As United’s Dickenson vainly tried to manoeuvre around the Crawley full-back and ran the ball into touch, another concerned Colcestrian desperately called out  ” ‘elp ‘im” .  But Colchester were doing alright, striking at the very heart of the Crawley defence and after 18 minutes Johnstone scored, shooting beneath ‘keeper Morris and all was well.

Having seen the joy that a goal can provide, five minutes on and Crawley Town got one too, a corner being diverted into the net from very close range by a man called Smith.  That popular beat combo The Cure and their frontman Robert Smith were from  Crawley. I hoped it was a relative at least. The scoreboard declared Barry’s 50 year love for Joan because it was Valentine’s day, but her joy was likely dented nine minutes later as a high cross was headed back to Smiffy and he volleyed the ball unsympathetically into the Colchester net.  The natives were no longer happy . ” The trouble with this now is…” said a bloke behind me,  but trailed off frustratingly; what was the trouble with this, apart from the obvious?

Half time. Cup of tea for a pound and a check of the half time results, then back for more.  Smith again, this time low and at an angle from 20 yards, 3-1 to Crawley.  Smith 23,34,52 (HAT) read the scoreboard and Smith was worth his hat, although he deigned to wear it. Unless you were a fan of the 1946 New Towns Act and its subsequent sport related spin-off things were not looking good, although another bloke behind me insisted on encouraging the U’s by repeatedly yelling ” Come on U’s, you’re all over them”, but he might have been being ironic, it was hard to say.   Another spectator was obsessed with Crawley Town having been a non-league side only recently, as if that meant they would be forever inferior. There’s never a psychologist about when you need one.  Personally I was now struggling with the smell of the after-shave or scent of the man in front of me who I thought, for a man in his seventies, had very, very  neatly coiffured hair; I surmised he had a post match Valetine’s date with a lady who liked smelly old men.

The ninety minutes became 98 minutes because the referee had made a spectacle of himself by hurting his  leg  and eventually being substituted, and Colchester pulled a goal back.  The locals emitted some throaty growls of encouragement , reviving memories of the Layer Road roar, but they couldn’t turn the tide of progress and Britain’s reputedly oldest town was unable to gain parity with one of Britain’s new towns.

Romans and Ancient Britons 2  Planned Post-War Utopia 3

I caught the bus, I caught the train, I walked home to my wife and her memories of Adrian Rabiot the pre-Raphaelite Parisian and Michaelangelo’s Paulo Verratti.