Colchester United 2 Harrogate Town 1

It’s the first day of the second weekend in October and in the space of a week the leaves on the trees have begun to turn to shades of yellow and brown; it’s autumn and it’s cool.  I had wanted to head north to Morecambe today following Ipswich Town, but fate conspired to leave me without a car this morning and a hoped-for message that would have seen me ‘get a lift’ never arrived.  But like Ray Davies I like my football on a Saturday and so I have sought my fun elsewhere.  Local non-league football is always an attraction and Halstead Town, both Stanway Rovers and Stanway Pegasus, Little Oakley and Coggeshall United are all at home this afternoon but sticking two fingers up to the cost of living crisis I choose Colchester United versus Harrogate Town.  As some people collect vinyl records, Smurfs or infectious diseases so I collect Football League teams (well sort of) and I’ve never seen Harrogate Town.  It should be an “interesting” match, with the teams being third and fourth from bottom of the fourth division, but at least Col U should have a chance of winning.

Since Colchester United stopped running shuttle buses to their ridiculously remote stadium at Cuckoo Farm I have only been to see them there once, I used to be a regular. The Colchester United website now makes no reference to getting to the Community Stadium by public transport, the implication being that you can only get there by car, which is scandalous given the urgent need to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.   We are all doomed, but nevertheless I book a space on-line for my trusty Citroen C3 at the ‘Park and Walk’ car park (£3.00), which is over the A12 from the stadium, and make the short drive towards oblivion.   

It’s a pleasant walk from the car park beneath pale blue afternoon skies punctuated with fluffy clouds, over the roaring A12 to United Way and its vacant expanses of tarmac haunted by the ghosts of terminally delayed shuttle buses.  At the ground I visit the club shop to marvel at the pencils, mugs, cuddly toys and fridge magnets; this is Colchester’s Fitzwilliam Museum.  I pick up a programme in the shop and am pleasantly surprised to find that these are still free, “It’s like being in France” I tell the woman at the counter.  Mysteriously the cover of the programme is printed with the words “£3.00 where sold” and I wonder where that might be. Outside, I take a wander, easily resisting the temptation to pay £4.00 for a plastic cup of fizzy ‘IPA’ from the Legends Bar, although the alfresco Yogi Bear-style tables look inviting and £4.00 a pint is actually very cheap for a football ground.  Up a shaded corner sits the Harrogate Town team bus, provided by a local company with the fabulously Yorkshire name of ‘Murgatroyd’; it’s a name straight out of “Last of the Summer Wine”, and I imagine the Harrogate team running out to the theme tune at home games.

My fascination with the outside of the Community Stadium is soon exhausted and I head inside the stadium, successfully scanning my ticket and pushing through the turnstile at the third or fourth attempt; computer technology frequently succeeds in belittling me like this and I expect I shall meet my eventual demise at the hands of artificial intelligence.  I drift past the poorly patronised food stand beneath the stand, with its alluring smell of hot cooking oil and grease and find my way to my seat, which is sufficiently close to the foot of the stairs for the safety rail to be annoyingly in my field of vision.  Over the PA system, ‘Lost in music’ by Sister Sledge is followed by Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop’ and I wonder if I’m not back at Layer Road in 1979 waiting to see Mick Packer, Steve Leslie and Trevor Lee strut their stuff.  Some of the people sat around about me look as if they would have been getting the benefit of a ticket at the concessionary price even back then.

“The teams are in the tunnel” announces the voice of the PA system excitedly to no reaction whatsoever from the crowd.  The teams soon emerge and as they line up for the usual pre-match pleasantries my view of them is almost totally obscured by the rail and the steward zealously guarding it.  Quickly, a couple of old boys sarcastically ask him if he’s going to stand there for the whole match, whilst also telling him to retreat into the stairwell, which he obligingly does; but I think he’s here to see the match as much as we are.

Colchester United get first go with the ball as the match begins and they attempt to aim at the goal closest to the town itself, which is over 3.5 kilometres away.  The U’s are wearing their traditional kit of blue and white striped shirts with white shorts and blue socks, and very smart it is too, particularly with just three broad blue stripes, although the red numbers on the backs of their shirts are mostly illegible.  Harrogate are regrettably one of the increasing number of teams that feel compelled to wear a funereal all-black away kit, despite there being no colour clash whatsoever between their yellow and black home kit and the U’s blue and white.   On the plus side, today is the first home league game for Col U’s new manager Matt Bloomfield, who joins the long list of former Ipswich Town players and managers at ‘Layer Road’, albeit that he only played one game for Town

“Col U” bang-bang-bang is the noise off to my right as the heirs to the Barside and Layer Road end get behind their team with a chant and the aid of a drum that sounds like a large cardboard box.  “Oooh, they’re in black, another bad sign and we’re kicking the wrong way” says the old bloke behind me cheerily like some soothsayer who might have told fortunes for Queen Boudicca.  “Only about bloody ten of ‘em” he continues, commenting on the Harrogate supporters in the opposite stand. “Got bloody cars in Yorkshire in’t they?”  He then proceeds to count them coming to a total of twenty-one.  Regrettably, I can’t resist doing the same and make the total twenty-five, although I don’t tell him.

“Blue and white army, de-de-de-de-dur” chant the home fans behind the goal as if they’ve either forgotten half the words or just couldn’t be bothered to think up any more.  “Hit the bloody thing” calls the old bloke behind me as Col U get into the Harrogate penalty area.  So far, so scruffy, it’s hard to  believe Col U beat Ipswich in the  League Cup earlier in the season.  “New manager’s made a difference, don’t you think” says someone behind the bloke behind me, perhaps only half in jest.  “Give him a chance, we’ve only had five minutes” says the voice of reason next to him, not quite getting the ’joke’.   “Who’s the wanker in the black” chant the Col U fans behind the goal, which is as close to wit as most football chants ever come.

When football is not of a high quality there comes a tipping point where this increases the likelihood of goals due to mistakes or ineptness, and happily this is what happens next.  A punt forward by Tom Dallison sails over the head of a Harrogate defender, who was either stood in the wrong place or didn’t jump high enough, and lands at the feet of Kwesi Appiah who is left with an unimpeded 20 odd metre run towards goal; he easily evades the Harrogate goalkeeper and runs the ball into an empty net whilst looking slightly surprised and possibly embarrassed.  Col U lead 1-0.

With Col U winning I relax and realise I haven’t seen the Col U mascot Eddie the Eagle, I hope he hasn’t succumbed to bird flu.  Col U are the better team with more attacking ideas, I hesitate to call it ‘verve’. “Go on push him” shouts the bloke next to me as Appiah chases another punt forward and the Harrogate defender who is ahead of him. Unfortunately, Appiah takes the bloke at his word and physically pushes the defender, inevitably conceding a free-kick.   The game is 25% gone and Frank Nouble heads a cross against the inside of a goal post, but it defies the laws of physics, and the angle of refraction somehow falls short of the angle of incidence and the ball stays out of the goal.  “There’s been more action in this first twenty minutes than in the whole season” says the bloke behind me sounding uncharacteristically positive.

I count the Harrogate fans again and it looks like there are thirty of them now, if they go on like this there might be forty of them by full-time; it seems unlikely though.  Perhaps aware of their swelling support, the Harrogate team begin to get something of a game together and win a corner and then another as Harrogate’s Armstrong, a bearded man with his hair tied back dangles a foot at the ball by way of an attempt on goal.   At first referee Mr Hicks give no decision and looks to his linesman. When the linesman signals goal-kick Mr Hicks awards the corner. “That’s teamwork” says the bloke next to me.

With ten minutes to go until half-time, Harrogate’s Joe Mattock has the honour of being the first player to be booked as he fouls the mouthy and theatrical Appiah.  Col U are strongest down the flanks and two minutes later a low cross from Junior Tchamadeu evades everyone in the penalty area expect Frank Nouble who is lurking beyond the far post and strikes the ball firmly into he goal to give Col U a 2-0 lead.  “Ole, Ole, Ole” chant the crowd behind the goal, simultaneously celebrating the goal and re-living holidays on the Costa Brava.

Four minutes of added on time are announced. “Where’d he get that from?” asks the bloke behind me but no one answers.  “You officials are a joke” shouts someone else when a possible handball is ignored and then Harrogate have their first shot on target, but it’s easily caught by Sam Hornby in the Col U goal.

With the half-time whistle I stand up to stretch my legs, and devour a Nature Valley Canadian Maple Syrup Crunchy bar as I check the half-time scores and discover that Ipswich are losing 1-0 at Morecambe. 

With the re-start of the game Harrogate replace Joe Mattock with Warren Burrell, I agree with the bloke beside me that Mattock had looked like he might get sent off if he wasn’t substituted, such was his enthusiasm.  Harrogate’s kick-off for the second half doesn’t show much hope for their approach as the ball is tapped back from the centre spot and then launched straight into touch as if just trying to gain distance from their own goal.  The other half-time substitute for Harrogate, Josh Falkingham fouls Appiah and quickly becomes the second player to be booked by Mr Hicks. “You dirty northern bastards” chant the Col U fans behind the goal, to my shame it’s a chant which, as someone who has never lived north of Ipswich, I have always found enjoyable.

Col U soon win another free-kick, but in the Harrogate half;  Mr Hicks sprays a line on the pitch ten yards from where the foul was given but  there is not a Harrogate player within ten yards of it. When Col U come to take the kick, they play it backwards.  “Go on boy, open your legs” cries the bloke next to me as Tchamadeu breaks forward again down the wing, I try not to look. Behind the goal the home fans have moved the choice of music in the stadium from the 1970’s to the 1980’s as they launch into a rendition of Depeche Mode’s ‘I just can’t get enough’.  They switch to ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ as Mr Hicks brandishes his yellow card in the direction of Col U’s Cole Skuse.  As the sun goes down,  over half of the pitch is now in shadow and I’ve got cold hands.

Not quite an hour of the match has gone and as happened when Col U scored their first goal, a moment in which any ability a player has suddenly deserts him occurs again.  This time Hornby’s seemingly easy clearance barely leaves the ground and travels directly to Harrogate’s Daniel Grant who strides forward, and slips the ball through to Pattison who shoots the ball into the far corner of the Colchester goal, the score is 2-1.  Weirdly, the Harrogate fans do not appear to celebrate; if they do they do it quickly and quietly, but then, it might not be possible to hear them because they are so well spread throughout the away fans enclosure in groups of no more than two or three, it’s almost as if they don’t get on or are embarrassed to be seen with one another.

Harrogate win another corner from which McArdle heads over the cross-bar and then they make another pair of substitutions.  When a Harrogate player is injured and stays down he’s attended to by the physio who is a woman.  At least one person in the stand behind the goal feels it’s appropriate to produce a wolf whistle and the bloke behind me suggests that the injured player will be looking into her eyes and telling her the pain is in his groin area.  It is sobering to find there are people who still think like this.

The last twenty-five minutes of the match play out in a series of free-kicks, the occasional corner, the evening up of the number of yellow cards shown and some more substitutions, three for Col U and one for Harrogate.  Col U’s defending gets more desperate with Luke Chambers hoofing the ball inelegantly even when he doesn’t have to, like he did for Ipswich in his latter days. When Col U win a free-kick the bloke behind me suggests they bring on Freddie Sears who has already been substituted. “It’s what they do in America” he says, attempting to justify his stupid comment, with an equally stupid one. 

In the final ten minutes of normal time Luke Chambers is booked, almost wilfully it appears, and Alex Newby and Luke Hannant miss simple looking chances in quick succession that could have secured the win for Col U. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon is the nine minutes of added on time that is to be played, but this might just be because in previous years four minutes has always been what we’ve come to expect.

With the final whistle there is applause, the crowd has clearly enjoyed the win even if it wasn’t the greatest game ever played. Often however a game between two evenly matched teams will be perfectly watchable regardless of how good they are; Col U and Harrogate were evenly matched today but Col U were the better team and deserved their victory.  I head off back over the A12 to the car park and learn that Ipswich have come from behind to beat Morecambe 2-1 and all is right with the world.

Brantham Athletic 0 Stowmarket Town 0

It’s a dull late January day; layer upon layer of slate grey cloud block out the sun, darkening the soft , deep browns of the claggy fields and casting the naked, leafless trees as black silhouettes. I catch the train to Manningtree from where it is just over a kilometre’s walk to the Brantham Leisure Centre, home of Brantham Athletic; the Blue Imps. At Manningtree Station the platform sign says “Manningtree for Dedham Vale”, but it doesn’t mention Brantham Athletic. Today Brantham Athletic, eighth in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division play Stowmarket Town, third in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division. The train is on time; a man walks by as I wait on the platform and opens a bag of crisps, a waft of artificial roast beef flavour assaults my nostrils in his wake. On the train I sit by a window, a ticket above the headrest states that the seat is reserved from Liverpool Street to Ipswich, but it’s vacant; what has happened to the person who reserved this seat? Did they miss the train? Are they getting pissed in the buffet car? The guard makes an announcement; the PA system is faulty and it sounds as if he is just talking loudly from the next carriage. The announcement does not solve the mystery.

a dull grey january day

Even on a dull January day it’s not a wholly unpleasant walk along the A137 from Manningtree station (which is actually in Lawford) over the River Stour and the marshes and meadows either side. The traffic is nasty but the scenery’s not. I take my life in my hands as I walk beneath the bridge below the railway line where there is no footway just a continuous white line to separate the would-be pedestrian from the traffic, but I survive to tell the tale. At the river, a gang of cormorants are hanging about on the mud. Over the river I am safely into Suffolk and I pass two blokes with powerful looking cameras; twitchers probably; Cattawade marshes is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). I cross the old road bridge at Cattawade before walking along Factory Lane past the derelict, mostly demolished premises of ICI and then turn left up towards the Brantham leisure centre. The shingle covered car park is already pretty full and it’s only twenty minutes past two. A sign that says “Kitchen in the clubhouse” strikes me as a little odd, I wouldn’t have expected to find it in the car park. There is no turnstile, just a man in a wooden shed. I pay my entry fee (£7) and buy a programme (£1), the man in the shed meticulously crosses off two more squares on the sheet in front of him. Even now there’s a short queue to get in, they’re all from Stowmarket. I enter the club house, a flat roofed building in the style of the 1950’s or early 1960’s with plenty of windows with UPVC frames. I look towards the bar but the one hand pump has the clip turned away from public gaze, indicating that there’s no real beer here today. I should have stopped for one at the Manningtree Station Buffet instead of just looking at the art in the tunnel beneath the tracks. I buy a bacon roll (£2.50), a young woman takes my money, cooks the bacon and then serves me the roll. “Well done Lill” I hear an older woman say from within the kitchen.

I take my bacon roll outside because the smell of hot cooking oil from the kitchen is a bit unpleasant and with my thick wool jumper and coat I’m feeling rather warm, hot even. I stand on the neatly manicured grass in front of the clubhouse; the teams are warming up on the adjacent cricket pitch which makes Brantham’s a slightly unsatisfactory ‘three-sided’ football ground. More and more Stowmarket Town supporters arrive, identifiable by their black and old gold knitwear. I head for the main stand, a beautifully modest, home-made looking structure of wooden benches smoothed by Suffolk buttocks, and white painted stanchions behind a brick wall, with the words Brantham Athletic Football Club painted along the front of the lean-to roof. If sitting on the back row it’s necessary to be careful standing up so as not to bang your head; I may be 1.87m tall, but I love a low roof. “Martin” calls a voice from the back of the stand; it’s Alistair, a disillusioned Wivenhoe Town supporter. Al takes in a local match most weekends with his young daughter; she’s a real football enthusiast and she’s only about six. We talk as the teams walk onto the pitch at the club house end of the ground before lining up to shake hands and say “How are ya?”. At last the game is ready to begin and I leave Al and his daughter in the stand, partly to promote my self-image as ‘a bit of a loner’, but mostly because it’s hard to see one of the goals over the top of the somewhat outsized metal-framed ‘dug-out’, which looks like the sort of structure you might park your bike in.

Stowmarket Town get first go with the ball, their favoured direction of kicking for this first half being towards the River Stour, the marshes and the main London to Ipswich rail line, with the clubhouse behind them. Stow’ wear an unnecessary away kit of all red, but it contrasts well with Brantham’s all blue strip and together on the bright, soft green turf they form a brilliant scene beneath the grey clouds. This may be Constable Country, but it’s all gone a bit Fauvist down here at the Leisure Centre.

Stowmarket are quickly on the attack and winning a corner. “Be strong” says their coach and I almost expect him to burst into song. Behind the Brantham goal a line of Stowmarket supporters hang over the rail. “Lip-up Fatty” they call to the chunky Brantham number four, appropriately channelling the song by ‘Bad Manners’. The number four then inexpertly slices a hoofed clearance off the pitch and looks down at the pitch as if to blame a worm cast or dissident blade of grass for his mis-kick. I decide that Stow’s number 2 and captain looks like a smaller version of Marseille’s Luis Gustavo.

“Oh Stowmarket is wonderful, oh Stowmarket is wonderful” the Stow’ fans then chant, to the tune of “When The Saints Go Marching In”, going on to qualify this by describing how it is full of the body parts that only women have, as well as Stowmarket Town Football Club. It’s not something Stowmarket town council advertise on their website. Stowmarket continue to dominate possession, but Brantham are their equals. At about twenty past three referee Mr Robertson-Tant, who has a high forehead and deep set eyes, a bit like Herman Munster, airs his yellow card for the first time, booking Stow’s number ten for barging the Brantham goalkeeper. Coincidentally and fascinatingly, one of the linesmen has a pronounced widow’s peak, not unlike Eddie Munster, Herman’s only son.

This is a close game, which is a good explanation for its lack of goals although just before half past three Stow’s number seven does turn smartly as a prelude to hitting a shot against the Brantham cross-bar. With half-time approaching I stand behind the Stowmarket goal in order to be closer to the clubhouse and the tea within. I catch the last exchange of a conversation between two blokes in their twenties or early thirties about an unidentified player. “Yeah, he’s shit, well he’s not shit, but…he’s shit, int he.” This is the sort of incisive player critique that the likes of Mark Lawrenson or Garth Crooks can never hope to provide.
Half-time arrives, the floodlights flicker in to life and I seek the warmth of the clubhouse; my right hand is burning with cold because I seem to have dropped my right glove on the way the railway station; later, on my walk home I will find it on the pavement where it fell. I join the queue for a pounds worth of tea in a polystyrene cup; the man behind me in the queue orders coffee and cheesie-chips; I don’t know why but I find cheesie-chips amusing. Despite the deepening cold I return outside; it’s too warm and noisy in the clubhouse and I’m more suitably dressed for the outdoors. In the window of the clubhouse I look at the team sheet; oddly only the players’ surname and initials are given, which seems unnecessarily formal. I take a look at the programme, there’s not much in it but I like its amateurish layout and the reference to Emiliano Sala in the Chairman’s report. I saw Sala play for Nantes against Lille a couple of years ago and have watched him numerous times on TV, I liked him a lot.
For the start of the second half I watch from the metal, prefabricated stand situated in one corner at the clubhouse end of the ground; apparently the seats were brought from Colchester United’s sadly missed old Layer Road ground. I don’t sit here long because the man behind me talks with a loud, piercing voice which hurts my ears. I return to the side of the ground by the dug outs. Stow’s number four, M Paine becomes the second player to be booked by Mr Robertson-Tant, I’m not sure why.
Stow’ continue to have the ball more of the time than Brantham. but look no more likely to score. “Stop fuckin’ dropping” shouts the Brantham manager to a defender as the game enters its last quarter and nervousness and angst begin to surface. At about half-past four Mr Robertson-Tant books G Clarke of Brantham, firstly raising his arm and flexing his wrist to point to three or four approximate locations around the pitch where Clarke had recently committed other misdemeanours; I like it when referees do that. Persistent fouling is my favourite offence for this very reason. Meanwhile the Stowmarket ‘ultras’ continue through their repertoire, rather repetitively re-living Depeche Mode’s “I just can’t get enough”. It’s almost twenty five to five and Stowmarket almost score as R Garrett receives a ball on the left, surges forward, goes wide of the challenge of the Brantham goal keeper L Avenell, but hits his shot against the base of the goal post from an acute angle.
With the game in its closing minutes I enjoy the glare of the floodlights and the deep blue darkness of the evening sky as much as the increasing anxiety of both teams’ coaches. “Watch that line, watch that line” says one of the Stowmarket coaches to the substitute J Mayhew as if he just can’t be trusted not to stray offside. He then says “Watch that line” just once more, for luck perhaps. “Brandy!” shouts the other bobble-hatted Stow’ coach to his goalkeeper C Brand, although it’s a name more suited to a porn actress, “…put a fuckin’ angle on it”, before saying “Shut it” to a Brantham supporter who passes comment. “Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze!” bawls the Brantham coach preferring cliché to coarseness. The final words before I move towards the exit go to the bobble-hatted Stow’ coach, “Fuck’s sake” he says.
The game ends goalless. It’s been a frustrating match, more for Stowmarket than for Brantham perhaps, but that may be just because of the weight of the combined hopes of their greater number of supporters. As I walk away across the cricket pitch towards the river the teams warm down and the Stow’ supporters wait to applaud their team from the field. I reflect upon whether watching local non-league football isn’t just the perfect way to spend a winter’s afternoon and return to the railway station, smug in the knowledge that I’ve also kept a car off the road today and helped to save the planet.

Ipswich Town 2 Sheffield Wednesday 2

An evening match at Portman Road and it’s not worth going home after work, so I stay a little later, but not that late and then take ‘tea’ in St Jude’s Tavern. My walk to St Jude’s takes me past Portman Road where the scene is being set for later in the evening. It’s half past five so darkness already shrouds the streets, but the bright white strip lights inside the Bobby Robson stand already illuminate it, and a silent expectation spills down in to Sir Alf Ramsey Way. Isn’t it daft that the Sir Bobby Robson stand is in Sir Alf Ramsey Way and the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand is at the other end of the ground? In Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Portman Road three burger vans are set-up; like the lights inside the stand they spill out a neon glow and with the absence of diners they possess a harsh, stark sadness, like paintings by Edward Hopper.

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A gaggle of stewards head for their evening’s work of standing about in hi-vis jackets and the local newspaper ‘goodie bags’ are being lined-up on the pavement.
I pass by quickly and have soon ordered a chicken a mushroom pie (although the barman said it was steak and kidney) and a pint of Cliff Quay Powder Monkey, a bitter, for a fiver. I sit and read for a short while as I eat and sup my beer before I am joined by a friend who buys me a pint of Cliff Quay Anchor (£3.40) which I prefer to the Powder Monkey. As usual the St Jude’s is being patronised by pre-match drinkers, but not packed out by them, which is good because it’s not a very big pub. My friend and I discuss the scandal that is Universal Credit, the Budget, living in France, my friend’s heart condition, and haircuts; I order another pint of Anchor and my friend, whose name is Mick, as in Mills, Hill, McCarthy and Jagger has a half.
Glasses drained and farewells said I find myself in Portman Road, it’s not very busy, but then the game is on the telly and Ipswich ‘supporters’ are quick to abandon their club when the going gets tough, even though prices are reduced to a very reasonable £15 all over the ground tonight; as a season ticket holder I feel a little cheated by that. Entry into the ground offers nothing of note tonight, but the stand is pitted with empty seats, it seems likely that many deserted the cheap seats tonight due to that special offer. There are plenty of supporters from Sheffield, well over a thousand and despite being from the city of the Arctic Monkeys, Pulp and The Human League they hit on Depeche Mode’s “ I just can’t get enough” as their anthem from the start; frankly I am disappointed.
The match kicks off and the ball is soon in the air and the game isn’t as beautiful as the publicity or Pele say; there’s a lot of pushing and shoving. There’s not too much to excite and therefore the Ipswich fans are quiet, whilst the more effusive people of South Yorkshire continue to show no regional loyalty moving seamlessly from Depeche Mode to Jeff Beck with a rendition of “Hi Ho, Sheffield Wednesday…” although without ever finishing the lyric; they must just like the fact that those four words scan so neatly. With the Ipswich supporters typically silent, it takes just fourteen minutes before the Wednesdayites appropriate a bit of opera to sing “Is this a library”, as all but the very smallest and quietest gatherings of away supporters do at Portman Road, and justifiably so.
Eventually, after twenty minutes or so, Ipswich have a couple of shots which inspire their supporters to launch into a few dull, atonal chants of “Blue Army”. Sheffield Wednesday dominate possession, as most teams do against Ipswich, but in the English second division that counts for nothing as few teams are capable of converting possession into goals. Ipswich are doing okay. Then it’s half time and I wander dispiritedly beneath the stand, worried as ever by the ageing demographic of Ipswich’s supporters. I toy with the idea of sitting somewhere else for the second half, but my enthusiasm has been sucked from me by the stiflingly silent attitude of the home crowd and I return to my own seat amongst the living dead to continue this passionless marriage with the club that once moved me.
The second half begins as the stomping “Singing The Blues” fades from the tannoy and the Sheffield Wednesday fans take up the tune with a gusto unknown in Ipswich, though for their own wicked purposes of encouraging their team. But within three minutes Ipswich score; Joe Garner tapping the ball simply and easily into the net at the far post after a corner is headed across goal. Now that Ipswich are winning, Ipswich supporters in The Bobby Robson Stand can be heard supporting their team and things are looking up; Ipswich are playing pretty well. It’s all a bit a shock therefore when fifteen minutes later Ipswich’s Jordan Spence mindlessly, needlessly and almost invisibly handles the ball to gift Sheffield Wednesday a goal from the penalty spot. Happily Martyn Waghorn restores Ipswich’s lead with a looping header about five minutes later and Ipswich continue to be the more effective team, even if they still don’t possess the ball as often as Sheffield.
The mood is uncharacteristically upbeat although of course you couldn’t say the stadium is reverberating to the sound of passionate support; “The noise, the passion, the sense of belonging” that Bobby Robson said defined a club remain elusive in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand . Portman Road will never rival St Etienne’s Stade Geoffrey Guichard as “The Cauldron” ; not so much Le chaudron as le cemetiere.
The final twenty minutes see substitutions borne of desperation from Sheffield and fear of losing from Ipswich. Sheffield resort to an enormous bearded Kosovan, Atdhe Nuhui, who is 1.96m tall. Ipswich resort to trying to keep the ball in the far corner of the pitch rather than continuing to play proper football, which could bring a third goal. In the final seconds of the match Ipswich lose the ball, Wednesday break away, cross the ball and the giant Kosovan heads the ball into the top corner of the goal. The game finishes and the Ipswich ‘supporters’ break their Trappist vows to boo, forgetting most of the previous ninety four minutes and preferring to concentrate on the final disappointing seconds. It does feel like defeat but heck most of the people here are old enough to have seen this all before; I am.

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Lowestoft Town 2 Kingstonian 1

It’s a one and a half hour journey by rail from Ipswich to Lowestoft on a chugging two-carriage diesel. Leaving at 12:17 the train arcs around the north of Ipswich giving a fine view across the town as it crosses Norwich Road and Bramford Road; the cluster of tower blocks in the town centre and on the waterfront look impressive and the floodlights mark out Portman Road as a football ground that still looks like football grounds should do, with lights at each corner, even if on steel sticks not pylons.
Leaving Ipswich, the train, which smells of cheese, possibly parmesan, which means it probably smells of sick, trundles on to Woodbridge23852564398_4a7a82ae49_o and Melton past Westerfield and through disused Bealings station. On into the Suffolk countryside the ride becomes more and more rural. It’s a journey for geographers, biologists and historians as we pass through sands and boulder clays, marshes and broads, passing cows and horses, pigs and sheep, an albino pheasant, partridges, ash and oak, gorse and broom, flint churches, a World War 2 pill box and thatched cottages. Football fans who know what they’re looking for can spot the floodlights of Woodbridge Town Football Club, and further up the line  College Meadow, where Beccles Town are destined to lose 0-3 at home to Debenham in the Suffolk Senior Cup later this afternoon, is right next to the station.
The train stops at Woodbridge, Melton, Campsea Ashe for Wickham Market, Saxmundham, Darsham, Halesworth, Brampton (request stop only), Beccles and Oulton Broad South; as if taking an inventory of rustic place names. Large stretches of the line still produce the old-fashioned clickety-clack of the railway track; near Brampton two people stood in a field wave and I wave back imagining they are Jenny Agutter and Sally Thomsett; a child at the table in front bawls, a mother accuses and a whining sibling pleads innocence; it was a game that went wrong. A John Deere tractor tills a massive field, the train passes37448300030_dc11d0db12_o under towering pylons marching two by two from Sizewell nuclear power station whose dome is visible in the distance over the tops of trees; there’s a windmill and wind turbines. This is a wonderful journey on a beautiful, bright autumn day.
Leaving Oulton Broad South the approaches to Lowestoft soon follow; a bleak landscape of seemingly disused dock on one side,

a huge Aldi and retail park on the other. Lowestoft station is at the centre of the town, at37656994766_a846c3409e_o the bottom of the High Street. It’s the end of the line and it looks it, a handsome Victorian building that’s too big for the two lines that host the buses on rails that rattle in through wonderful East Anglian landscapes from both Ipswich and Norwich. It’s a town that has undoubtedly seen better days, it expanded in the late nineteenth century on the back of industrial scale fishing, an unsustainable activity like coal mining and as that industry declined so the town lost its raison d’etre. It had other industries such as bus body building (Eastern Coachworks) but with the de-nationalisation of bus travel that closed too.
It’s just a ten minute walk from Lowestoft railway station to Lowestoft Town’s stadium via Katwijk Way, onto Raglan Street and then left into the charmingly named Love Road.36995695774_414a0e9c77_o The streets are of terraced houses and even a couple of back street boozers, an alleyway runs down the back of the main stand; this is a proper football ground with a vista of chimney pots and residential roof tops. You can see where the supporters live here, not where they buy their weekly groceries, or go bowling and to the cinema. Lowestoft Town have been at Crown Meadow since 1894.

However, before getting to the ground I take a diversion to the excellent Triangle Tavern on the Triangle Market at the top of the High Street. It’s not far from the stadium and serves beers brewed by Lowestoft’s own Green Jack Brewery. I have a pint of Lurcher Stout (£3.30) and a little while later a pint of Bramble Bitter (£3.00); both good, but the Lurcher was easily my favourite. There are twelve other drinkers in the bar where I sit and I think eleven of them are older than me. Four are sat around a table, all drinking halves. Three sit in a row,37705881601_7f80655d17_o talking occasionally but also reading and another three, one of whom sports a Kingstonian shirt, sit at a table by the door. One of the Kingstonian group looks at least 70 and surprises me by suddenly mentioning Depeche Mode, although he seems to think David Sylvian was lead singer and is quickly corrected by the wearer of the shirt. I bemoan to myself that the conversation between the sort of blokes who frequent real-ale pubs often sounds like they are just waiting for the pub-quiz to start.

In Love Road, the away team bus, which is called Elaine Mary, is bumped on the kerb opposite the stadium;

I approach the smart blue turnstile block beneath a sign that says “Welcome to the 37673670372_c6fe6fed60_oAmber Dew Events Stadium”; it should say that it’s real and lasting name is Crown Meadow but it doesn’t. “What is it? A tenner?” I ask of the lady turnstile operator. “Eleven” she says, adding “If you’re an adult, are you?” I laugh, “Nooo, I’m not an adult” I say perhaps a little too sarcastically, but later I think maybe she thought I’m a pensioner. I reckon £11 to watch non-league, part-time football is a bit steep, and although it’s no more than other clubs charge at this level, in France it cost less (9 Euros) to watch a fully professional match (Nimes v Auxerre)  in Ligue 2. C’est la vie. Just inside the turnstile programmes are sold from a table for £2, I buy one.
Whilst I’m not thirsty anymore, I am hungry and after exploring the earthly delights of the club shop I head to the far end of the ground to the food kiosk.37657008196_83b263619d_o Inside the kiosk a middle aged man attends the deep fat fryer and a young woman takes the money, whilst surreally a second older man is asleep on a chair.37657008666_744983181f_o From the usual football food menu I opt for the ‘hot dog’ (£3.50), which consists of two very ordinary sausages with onions (optional), in what turns out to be a very crumbly

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finger roll; I can’t recommend it. It takes a while to cook the sausages and the teams have come on to the pitch, been through all that hand shaking ‘respect’ stuff and kicked off before I take my first bite. Kingstonian are in red and white hooped shirts with black shorts and socks whilst Lowestoft, who kick-off the game towards Love Road and the dock, are in all-blue. Lowestoft Town are nowadays known as the Trawlerboys, but their shirts are sadly not sponsored by Fisherman’s Friend cough sweets, but by ‘Africa Alive’, which I believe was once more prosaically known as the Kessingland Wildlife Park.
The game is evenly contested early on, to the extent that neither team looks likely to go on and win. Although Lowestoft do hit the cross bar, not much else is happening near the goals, but it holds my attention in bursts. The Kingstonian number five Michell Gough stands out, mostly because of his hair, which might be described as pirate-like or a bitOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA girlie depending on your point of view, but also because he is very involved in the game and hits a decent long pass. It is probably a good thing that men are once again comfortable wearing a pony tail, but I’m glad that a rubber band or scrunchy did not deny me the sight of the flowing locks of Mario Kempes, Kevin Beattie and Gunter Netzer back in the 1970’s. For Lowestoft, their number eleven Cruise Nyadzyo seems keen to get the ball forward, but too often his crosses pick out no one in particular. I multi-task by walking around the ground and watching the match at the same time. A steward eyes me suspiciously. There is a country bus shelter type structure behind the far goal which sports on its back wall a trawler-shaped memorial plaque to one Ted Lightfoot.

Three Kingstonian fans occupy the shelter and muse upon whether they comprise the smallest group of Kingstonian fans ever assembled behind a goal for a Kingstonian first team match. Along the long side of the pitch opposite the mainstand are the dug-outs; the Lowestoft manager, bald headed and in a black tracksuit is very mobile, swearing violently to himself when one of his players fails to live up to his expectations.

Above the dug-outs a camera loft looks like it could double up as a hide for birdwatchers on the nearby Broads. I linger for as long as it takes me to get bored with hearing the word ‘fuckin’. Moving on I can see the blades of a wind-turbine over the top of the stand opposite. I pass behind the goal at the Love Road end, squeezing between a wall and the row of mostly younger Lowestoft Town supporters pressed up against the rail.

It’s approaching half-time and I settle in a gap between spectators stood against the wall in front of the main stand. “Hello Peter, how are ya?” says a cheery Suffolk-accented voice. “I int sin ya for ages” he continues. “Well, I sin your boy” says Peter, adding a further layer of mystery to the conversation. It turns out Peter and his friend who hasn’t seen him in a while are also Ipswich Town fans. Peter’s friend has been taking the train to Ipswich to watch matches and keeps Tuesdays free for midweek games, which is why he is annoyed that the Sheffield Wednesday match has been moved to a Wednesday night. “Bloody Sky tv” he says “they’re ruining the game” and he voices the thoughts of football supporters everywhere.

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There will be two minutes of added on time at the end of the first half which is time enough for Kingstonian’s number four Paul Rogers to clear the ball and in so doing raise a boot too close to the face of the Trawlerboys’ number five and captain Travis Cole, who makes me think of Malcolm McDowell in Lindsey Anderson’s marvellous film “If”. Travis keeps touching his face and looking for blood, clearly suffering from the weird form of hypochondria that affects all footballers when anything brushes by their pretty faces. The consequence is that referee Mr Quick wastes no time in booking the slightly unfortunate Rogers and awarding a penalty to the home team, which is scored by number nine Jake Reed. Emboldened by the goal, there are a few shouts of “Come on you Blues” from the home supporters, one of whom has a bass drum. But half-time swiftly follows and I return to the scene of the crumbling hot dog to obtain a pounds worth of tea, which comes in a much larger cup than at other grounds I’ve been to, but it doesn’t taste particularly nice; I think it’s the fault of the slightly waxy paper cups. Back in front of the main stand ‘Woody’, a large bear dressed like Uncle Sam, patrols with his minder encouraging people to visit Pleasurewood Hills, a local theme park.  As things stand Woody is a viable United States president.   I look through the match programme and am a little disturbed that the advert for the stadium sponsor, Amber Dew Events, features a picture of a partially squashed ant, albeit a partially squashed ant inside a piece of amber. 37733059866_c1ac726a82_o
For the start of the second half I choose to sit in the main stand, just in front of the area reserved for the club officials; the only people in the ground wearing suits and club ties.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I want to tell them to relax, grow their hair, wear shades and a beret; they surely only dress like they do so people know that they are the club officials. I smile to myself. The main stand is a lovely, low, gloomy structure with a deep, grey fascia beneath the roof and glass screens at either end. Inside the stand there are no plastic seats like those found at most grounds; here they have the original cast iron frames with beautifully mellowed, curved wooden backs and wooden tip up seats. The stand has no stanchions to block your view suggesting it might be of  a cantilever design, in which case it was an early one.  Despite lashings of blue paint, it’s dull and utilitarian; but it’s beautiful and a candidate for local listing by Waveney District Council. Club officials in de-mob suits, brogues and fedoras, and smoking pipes would not look out of place in this stand.
The second half begins and from my newly elevated position I finish my tea and enjoy37448276580_f8acd4d810_o the burst of sunlight that breaks through the mass of cloud that started to hang low over Lowestoft this afternoon whilst I was in the Triangle Tavern. For all its beauty, this stand is on the wrong side of the pitch and a hundred or more people squint in unison. There are more shouts of “Come On You Blues” as people sense victory is possible, but this seems to make some older supporters sat behind me a bit tetchy too. Mr Quick the referee receives some mild abuse for one or two of his decisions and there is clearly a belief that the world and in particular Mr Quick is against Lowestoft. But according to Wikipedia, this is a town with three UKIP councillors, so fear and a lack of logic are common currency.
The folks behind me are full of advice for the team; “Pass to Smudger”, “Too Late”, “ You shudda passed to Smudger”, “ Get a grip Blues”, “ What did you give it away for Blues?”, “Give it to someone who can put their foot on the ball”. It’s odd, but I must have seen more than two thousand football matches in my time and I’ve never seen anyone gain any advantage by just putting their foot on the ball, but there are still people who seem convinced that it is an effective tactic. I did see Arnold Muhren put his foot on the ball, drag it back and then release a thirty metre pass of pinpoint accuracy, but I don’t think that is quite the same thing.
The game rolls on and way off to the right I can see the copper spire of Lowestoft’s parish church, the Grade One listed St Margaret’s. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOblivious of medieval flintwork the  commentary continues from from behind me, particularly when Cruise Nyadzyo is substituted; it’s not a popular decision. The view seems to be that he was the best player on the pitch. Things don’t get any better in the eyes of the mainstanders as Kingstonian’s Thomas Derry strikes the cross-bar with a header from a corner. But taking the best player off seems to have no lasting effect, perhaps it makes the other players work harder, and soon afterwards a low right-wing cross from Lowestoft’s number eight Sam Borrer is easily kicked into the Kingstonian net from close range by Jake Reed and Lowestoft lead 2-0. Going further behind seems to be just what Kingstonian needed to do however, in order to raise their game and they eventually score a goal too, from a free-kick off the head of number five Michell Gough. The remainder of the game involves Kingstonian trying to equalise and Lowestoft trying not to concede. I leave my seat to stand closer to the exit because when the final whistle blows it won’t leave long to get to the railway station for the 17:07 train. Eventually at 16:58 Mr Quick calls time and I sprint off down Love Road leaving the victorious Trawlerboys behind me; I make it onto the train with nearly three minutes to spare.
It has been a good day out, a day of many pleasures; a scenic train ride, fine local beers, blue skies, sunshine and clouds, a football ground set amongst terraced houses and back alleys, an old-fashioned grandstand and a half decent football match, which isn’t bad for a depressed town with the highest unemployment rates in Suffolk. Visit Lowestoft, it needs you.