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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Colchester United 1 Port Vale 1

It is the day before Christmas Eve, a dull, dirty December day. A breeze has dried the pavements and roads but the damp is in the ground and releases a chill into the air like a radiator in reverse. It’s a short train journey into Colchester but the carriage is well loaded with people ‘going to stay’ for Christmas, the gangways between the seats are blocked up with suitcases.
Opposite me a bulbous-eyed, red faced man is on his mobile phone organising last minute work details as he heads off for the holidays… “Take Stella’s name out….sanitise it….just say it’s a commodity distribution company….a cdc…”. It all sounds a bit dodgy. Twat, I think. Behind me a woman asks a man if he is going to Colchester. No, Stowmarket” he says. “ Is that near Norwich?” “ Yes “ he lies, although I suspect it would just be too much bother to be truthful and to say “No”. People do that I find; I do that.
In Colchester I leave the train and head for the Bricklayers Arms, following a bald headed man in a camouflage jacket who disappears into the pub fifty yards ahead of me. I stride across the pub car park eager for a beer, there is a man with a large Airedale terrier in the smoking shelter. At the bar I order a pint of Adnams Old Ale (£3.65; I can’t see the man in the camouflage jacket anywhere). There are a few people enjoying a drink, it being nearly Christmas, but conversation is quiet and there don’t seem to be many football fans in yet. Two men and a woman, who is wearing a sparkly woolly hat with a furry bobble, occupy the next table along from me. The woman is on her mobile phone as she sits down. “No, I’m going to London tomorrow. We’re taking the dogs up town” she says mysteriously before sitting down with her back to me. Phone conversation over, one of the men dominates the pub conversation; he talks about the Star Wars films. “I’m not a sci-fi person” he says “ But basically those three made in the 1990’s were shite; but I always go and see them all because I feel if I don’t I might be missing something… I know I’m going to come away disappointed.”
I get another pint of beer (Adnams Broadside £3.70) and speak to a man at the bar called Mike who I vaguely know from my wife’s church. He is waiting to swap a pint of St Austell Tribute which refuses to settle for a pint of Adnams Ghostship. The Broadside is very enjoyable and I am still savouring it as I board the bus to the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium (£2.50 return). There is plenty of leg room

on the bus which is good. The front window on the upper deck has a blue tint across the top which reminds me of my first car, a mark two Ford Escort. Hopefully the bus won’t get written off on a frosty road like the Ford Escort did.
Once off the bus I join a queue for a programme (£3), then pop into the club shop, not to

 

buy anything but just because I am fascinated by club shops and the things they sell. It’s like visiting an art gallery. Back outside the Port Vale team bus nestles at the back of the main stand, a few hardy souls sit and drink coffee at the picnic tables outside the Hot Shots café, which is serving locally made ice cream. At the corner of the ground a vast screen stares out across the A12 advertising forthcoming ‘attractions’. It seems that inOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA July four young women dressed as prostitutes will appear under the name ‘Little Mix’. I turn away because they make me feel a little uneasy, and head for the turnstiles.
Inside the south stand I take in the aroma of breeze blocks and urinal deodorizer blocks and for reasons I cannot explain decide to buy a sausage roll (£2.30). It’s a decision I begin to regret as I peel the pastry from its plastic wrapper which has turned brittle in the microwave. The wrapper tells me that what I am about to eat has a ‘pork-based filling’, a phrase which worries me slightly. The list of ingredients reveals a pork content of just OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA18%. On the front of the wrapper it says “…don’t compromise”; as the slimy sausage roll slides down inside me I realise that it’s too late.
Feeling disappointed with myself I take up my seat and the game begins with Port Vale kicking towards Colchester town centre with the McDonald’s across the other side of the A12 at their backs; they are wearing an all-black kit with narrow yellow and white stripes running down from the armpit; Colchester wear their usual blue and white stripes with white shorts. PortOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Vale’s kit is rather nasty. A new layer of disappointment is added as the game unfolds not into a beautiful flower but into a scrunched up mess. A win could see Colchester step into the top six in the fourth division, whilst Port Vale are only four points above the relegation zone; so a Colchester win is expected. But neither side is very good, although Port Vale are slightly better than expected and Colchester far poorer.
The game and the pervading atmosphere are dull and grey like the weather. The man sitting in front me who has a very full head of grey hair mildly vents his frustration with a slightly camp flick of his wrist as referee Mr Kinseley gives Port Vale a free-kick. “but he got the ball “ the grey–haired man opines. Behind me two men talk about things other than what is unravelling in front of us. As ever, one of them dominates the conversation. “I’ve got a feeling Braintree are at home ……..he’s got a very funny surname…..I watched this thing, it mighta been on Channel Five, about a bloke that built a lot of stuff in this country….Brunel, fuckin’ ‘ell, what a clever bloke…”
On the pitch Port Vale’s Marcus Harness stands out, not just because his first and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsurnames kind of rhyme, but because he runs around a lot to good effect and has a very bouncy, almost fluffy ponytail. Just after half past three a ball is lumped over the Port Vale defence, Sammie Szmodics runs onto it and kicks it beyond the appropriately named Ryan Boot in the Port Vale goal. It’s a bit of a surprise, but more importantly it’s a goal.
At half-time I step outside the back door with the smokers and eat the last of a box of Fairtrade cereal bars that has lasted me several months. Whilst some spectators smoke and top up with fast food at the burger van outside the stadium I browse through the programme; it’s not very interesting today, but I enjoy reading the names of the Colchester United squad; my favourites are Doug Loft, Kane Vincent-Young and Rene Gilmartin. To read out a team containing such names would be something like poetry.
The grey afternoon gets darker as the sun goes down and the second half begins. Hopes of there having been a stirring half-time team talk which has inspired the players toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA produce anything approaching entertaining football are soon dashed, this is dull. Eddie the Eagle peers on glumly through his huge startled eyes, wearing a red coat edged in white. I assume this is Eddie‘s sartorial nod to St Nicholas, but in fact he looks more like a bizarrely colourful Teddy boy or perhaps he is just wearing his dressing gown.
Port Vale are Colchester’s equals today and with a quarter of an hour left Marcus Harness scores the equalising goal with a glancing header. For the first time the small band of away supporters can be heard,” Vay-al, Vay-al” they chant, once or twice. Five minutes of added-on time raise hopes that Colchester can re-establish their lead, but they don’t. With the final whistle I am up quickly and on my way to the bus stop. This seems like a wasted afternoon; a wasted £17.50. But may be football is like Star Wars; shite, but you can’t not go in case you miss out on something.

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Colchester United 0 Morecambe 0

It is a still, grey day. It is an autumn day with a winter chill. The train into Colchester is on time. There is a man in Colchester United themed attire on the station platform. I am wearing a 45 year old blue and white bar scarf myself, but mainly to keep out the cold rather than to express my love for Colchester United; my scarf is an Ipswich Town scarf. Opposite me on the train is a girl with glasses and green hair, she looks like she might have spent time as the plinth to a bronze statue, but I wouldn’t say it doesn’t suit her. Arriving in Colchester I waste no time in heading for the Bricklayers Arms

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: I have no reason to linger at the railway station; after all, I’m not a trainspotter.
It is but a short walk to the Bricklayers; even though it’s a quarter past one on a football Saturday, there aren’t many people in the pub. I soon avail myself of a pint of Adnams Old Ale (£3.65) from the cheerful blue-haired bar maid and take a seat with a copy of the Colchester local paper, The Gazette. The Gazette is a dull read today; I scan the letters page disdainfully, who gives a toss what the sort of people who write to the local paper think? The best bit of the paper is the local football news; Holland FC are cutting their playing budget, which no doubt explains why last week their manager resigned. There are a few more people in the pub now and nearby a middle aged man talks about bar scarves. “ I had one like that” he says pointing at his friend’s scarf and then proceeds to try and make a point ( I think) about why his original scarf was better, but he never really gets to the point before his friends interrupt with their scarf experiences and another bloke arrives with the beers . It doesn’t matter, he is going to buy a new hat at the club shop today anyway. I get a second pint; Damson Porter (£3.80) this time.
The conversation about me is dull and there is rugby on the telly, I leave to catch the bus to “Layer Road”, or “Weston Homes out in the middle of nowhere stadium” as it’s now known. As I turn the corner into Bruff Road

from where the buses leave a bus leaves, but another one rolls forward to take its place. The bus driver shares his cab with a young boy (his son?) who he gets to operate the ticket machine. Paying my £2.50 return fare I ascend the stairs, ticket in hand and take a seat at the front of the bus. “Hello Martin” says a voice next to me “Hello Martin“ I say. It’s a man I used to work with called Martin; he is retired, he has a Colchester United season ticket. He tells me how later this month he is going to see England women’s team play Kazhakstan at “Layer Road” and his ticket only cost a pound.
The bus soon arrives at the stadium and before going in I buy a programme (£3)and take a look in the club shop. I pick up a “fixture list and family guide”, whatever that is; football fixtures and family planning advice in one handy leaflet? Anything is possible. I walk to the end of the stand, the Morecambe team busOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA is sat with the engine running; it’s a long trip to Morecambe so may be the driver is hoping for a quick getaway. There isn’t much going on outside the stadium so I head for the turnstile. Once inside I feel compelled to visit the toilet. Feeling more comfortable I meet another man called Martin who I used to work with; he has a season ticket like the other Martin, but isn’t retired. Martin is compelled to visit the toilet just like I was and so I take up my seat; there is no one sat either side of me, there aren’t many people here today, I later learn that I am one of just 2,872. It’s the smallest crowd for a Saturday league game at “Layer Road” this season.
Kick-off is imminent and with no delays for minutes’ silences or applauses today the match soon starts. Colchester United get to kick the ball first this afternoon, heading towards the A12 and small Marks & Spencer in the service station over the dual carriageway. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColchester wear their ‘traditional’ blue and white striped shirts and white shorts with blue and white hooped socks. I like hooped socks; I wish Ipswich Town would wear them. Morecambe wear the archetypal away kit, an insipid all pale yellow number which is bland and annoying. It’s as if no one at Morecambe could be bothered to come up with anything distinctive. I can forgive clubs for a lack of ambition, especially on home gates of less than two-thousand, but please look like you care. It is unclear why Morecambe even need to wear their away kit today because their first choice colours are red shirts with white shorts.
The ball is hoofed off the pitch within seconds of the start, but that’s a highlight as the game quickly settles into a boring goalless draw. Morecambe do little to begin with, and whilst Colchester have the ball at their feet more of the time they don’t do anything much that would result in a goal. Individuals make runs with the ball, but the concept of passing it accurately seems alien.
The two blokes behind me have a conversation which is as directionless as the game. I hear snippets. ”It was cold yesterday, Monday it was cold” one says. “According to the paper there were 600 there, I thought it looked more” says the other. Colchester are awarded a corner. “ I know it was cold Monday at work….no, I wasn’t at work on Monday. But it was cold”. Elsewhere in the stadium the crowd briefly comes to life “Come on Col U” they implore a couple of times before falling silent again. The game fails to grip the attention of the blokes behind who carry on their conversation “I went to watch Leyton Orient, they fucking got beat mate, load of fucking shite mate”. “Whereabouts is Morecambe?” “It’s north of Blackpool on the coast. Don’t you remember, where those cockle pickers were?” Eddie the Eagle the Colchester mascot walks back and forth like a wild animal in captivity, which I suppose he is, in a way.
Morecambe, whose club badge consists of a huge shrimp on a red background set beneath the word “Morecambe” eventually begin to have an equal share of possession as if they realise that Colchester are incapable of doing anything with the ball, so they might as well have a go. Morecambe fluff a couple of half chances but then a careless back pass leaves the interestingly named Aaron Wildig in front of the Colchester goal keeper with the ball at his feet. But Wildig fails to react quickly enough, then chooses to shoot from a narrow angle when he could have passed the ball; his shot is easily saved and the opportunity is lost.
Half-time is a blessed relief and I queue in the anaemically, strip- lit void beneath the

stand for a pound’s worth of Tetley tea; others, mostly smokers, escape the claustrophobia of the concourse through the open doors at the back of the stand. It feels like we have been granted our freedom and I half expect stewards to move amongst us telling as we are free to go if we wish. Mindful that I paid £17.50 to be here I returnOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ‘indoors’ and make my way back to my seat, warming my hands around my paper cup of tea.
The second half begins and some Colchester supporters seem galvanised by being able to shout abuse at the away teams goalkeeper; bizarrely as the “The Shrimps” goalkeeper prepares to take a free-kick a man at the back of the stand calls out what sounds like “Get on with it , Coco Chanel”. Despite the Morecambe players all wearing little black dresses with matching handbags the game doesn’t get any better and my mind begins to wander. There is a small brown leaf on the back of the seat in front of me

evidencing the onset of autumn, but also the fact that the stadium cleaning regime probably needs improving; there is an assortment of other rubbish behind other seats.
The game is two-thirds of the way through, for the first time I think I hear faint cries of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Come on Morecambe’ from the half a pint or so of Shrimp fans searching for one another in the corner of the ground. Some of the Colchester supporters are getting restless; there are some more chants of “Come on Col U, Come on Col U” and angry groans when passes fail to find Colchester players.

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A man in front delivers an implausibly shrill “Whaaaat!?” when referee Mr Lee Collins awards Morecambe a free-kick. There are more plaintive calls of “Come on Col U” as supporters begin to plead with their team to score a goal. This was meant to be a game Colchester would win; the U’s are tenth in the league table, two points off the play-off places, nine places and eight points ahead of Morecambe.
Substitutions are made. It’s nearly twenty to five and Colchester’s number nineteen Mikael Mandron breaks down the left, he gets in the penalty area, gets to the goal line and hooks his foot around the ball to send a low cross in to the centre. All around there is excitement and expectation. A man in front of me begins to stand up. The Colchester substitute, number twenty-four Craig Slater is there, he shapes to shoot the ball into the net, he must score; he completely misses the ball, collapsing in a tangle of legs and arms with a Morecambe defender. From near ecstasy to embarrassment in the blink of an eye. A short while later Slater misses again, but this time he gets the ball, smashing it against the cross bar; so that’s not so bad. As the addition of three minutes added-on time isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA announced a big number 3 appears on the scoreboard and there is a dash for the exits, as if another three minutes of this will be just too much to bear.
Mr Collin’s final whistle predictably is the prequel to a chorus of boos that echo around the emptying stands. It’s been a dull game OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAon a dull afternoon and the intensity of this dull experience has been deepened by the fact that there weren’t many of us here to witness it. Up in the stand a board advertises the ‘Matchday Experience’ and gives a local telephone number, as if you could just phone up to experience what we’ve all just been through.  I head off towards the bus stops, numbed but nevertheless enriched by the glumness of the occasion. Such awful games are what it’s all about; pain and missed opportunities. That’s life. Good, innit.

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Colchester United 2 Mansfield Town 0

As I stepped off the train at Colchester station the voice over the public address system was announcing the imminent departure of a train to Harwich Town. Something about the way he said “Harwich Town” made him sound like Michael Caine.  I tried to peer in through the window of the Customer Service office as I drifted past, hoping to pick him out, but I couldn’t.  In any case, it’s 2017 and everyone wears glasses like Harry Palmer nowadays, except me.

Leaving the station, it was still light as I walked to the Bricklayers Arms where a barrel of Adnams Old Ale was waiting for me to request the drawing of a pint, and in time another (£3.65 each). My thirst quenched by the dark liquid and my mind entertained by a book, the evening had closed in by the time I caught the bus to the Weston Homes Out in the Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium (£2.50 return).  Tonight the opposition would be Mansfield Town, close rivals of Colchester in the Division Four league table, with 52 points, one more than the U’s.

I sat with a former work colleague on the bus, we met at the bus stop. “Hello Martin” he said. “Hello Martin” I said. It sounded silly, but what can you do, we are both called Martin. Martin (that’s him, not me, I don’t like to refer to myself in the third person, only weirdos do that) has a season ticket and had one back at Layer Road. I ask how long he’d been a season ticket holder but he couldn’t say, so too long probably. Alighting from the bus I said goodbye because I wanted to stop and queue for a programme. Outside the ground there is a sense of anticipation created by this short queue and the cheery bonhomie of the programme seller. Programme (£3.00) in hand,I now pause for a moment and take in the beauty that is the glare of the floodlights huddling over the tops of the stands 33478017515_e15e34aa2f_zand the warm glow of spitting hot fat and cones of chips that emanates from a shiny white burger van.

It’s 7.30 now and the tannoy gets us in the mood by playing Love Will Tear Us Apart and I have a few minutes to look at the programme before kick-off. Admirably, Col U’s programme IMG_20170317_0002always features local non-league teams and tonight there is a piece on Halstead Town; IMG_20170317_0001it is hilarious. Halstead goalkeeper Luke Banner has swallowed a lexicon of footballspeak and cliché “…you never know” he is quoted as saying “If we take one game at a time and keep picking up wins and points then who knows what can happen”. Wise words Luke. Whatever you do you don’t want to be one of those clubs that plays several games at once and loses them all; that’s a recipe for disaster if you ask me. I don’t blame Luke for the banality of his comments though, I blame the reporter on the Gazette who he was apparently talking to.

The game begins and Mansfield Town are kicking towards the goal right in front of me. “Mansfield, they’re non-league” shouts a familiar voice from the back of the stand whose understanding of promotion and relegation is clearly still strained. He says the same thing another four times before half-time. The game carries on. Briggs the Colchester left back carelessly scythes a clearance onto the roof of his own goal. The empty north stand looks on sullenly, 32634760104_740916ac06_oa blue void at one end of the sparsely populated stadium barely creating echoes; it must miss that joyous throng of Portsmouth fans that occupied it at the weekend.

The game is end to end, although probably more Colchester end than Mansfield. Mansfield’s number 10 shoots over the bar from all of 7 yards but atones, in my eyes anyway, by dancing around and over the ball a bit later in the manner of John Travolta, I bet he looks good on the dancefloor I think to myself getting Mansfield and Sheffield muddled up. Meanwhile the Mansfield supporters are a stoic bunch. We’ve not heard a peep out of them. I imagine a collection of dour characters drawn from the pen of DH Lawrence. Meanwhile again, the Colchester ‘lads’ (I can’t imagine them being lasses) break into a chorus of “Oh Colchester is won-der-ful, Oh Colchester is wonderful, It’s full of tits, fanny and United, Oh Colchester is won-der-ful.” So, once we’ve kicked racism out of football we should probably get right on to sexism. No wonder you don’t see many black women at football.

Twenty minutes pass and Colchester score, a low shot from Brennan Dickenson cutting in from the left. Soon after, Mansfield’s No 2 misses the ball completely about five yards from goal; but yes, it was a difficult angle. Still not a murmur from the Mansfieldians in the stands. Eight more minutes pass and Dickenson passes the ball into the box and after a neat turn the ball is sent into the corner of the Mansfield net by Sammy Szmodics, a man whose name is somewhat notable for its S’s and M’s; his goal make us smile.

Colchester are cock-a-hoop, Mansfield are mithered and losing 0-2. The scoreboard advertises a tribute to Robbie Williams; he’s not dead too is he? Half-time comes and I buy a tea for a pound; “Tetley, it begins with the tea”33321899142_18a137fb0c_o it says on the paper cup, but that sort of play on words doesn’t impress me; I should hope it bloody does begin with the tea, although we all know it really began with the motivation of profit. That’s why a few crushed up dried leaves and some hot water costs a quid. I am going to smash capitalism one day you know; it’ll probably be between May and August when there’s no football.

Mansfield’s number 10 continued to please once the game re-started as he shot hopelessly wide of the far post when practically stood in the Colchester penalty area on his own. The the U’s support howled with derision as well they might. The second half became a bit dull after that with Mansfield hogging the ball without really looking like scoring. In a particularly dull period of play I blew on my tea and enjoyed watching the game through a fog as the condensation very slowly cleared from my glasses. Then I did the same again. “Stand up if you love the U’s” sang the sexist Colchester fans in a moment when they weren’t thinking about lady-parts.

Then a Colchester player stayed down on the pitch after a challenge, apparently hurt; only now did the Mansfield supporters stir as they subjected the injured U to a tirade of abuse. I could see fists being shaken and fancied I heard the sort of incomprehensible angry ramblings uttered by Tom Bell in the early 1980’s BBC adaptation of DH Lawrence’s Sons & Lovers. The sudden burst of life from Mansfield didn’t go un-noticed by the U’s fans “keep the noise down over there would you please” quipped one.

The ball and players moved about as if governed by Brownian motion and it was inevitable that someone would get booked. Mansfield’s number 2 was the referee’s first choice and having been shown the yellow card he hung his head and swung his right leg stiffly as if miming “Aw shucks” and in the realisation that he would get a clip round the ear from his Ma when he got home. The score board advertised Comedy Nights the first Thursday of every month and right on queue a free-kick ended with the Mansfield No 10, who amusingly is called Matt Green, like the paint, missing the goal hopelessly once again.

Mansfield were getting nowhere fast despite restricting Colchester to breakaway attacks. Change was needed thought their manager the un-loved Steve Evans and up went the number board to withdraw Number 18. But ever the prankster it was our old friend Matt Green who started to walk off; may be it was his eyesight that had been letting him down all evening. With his dancing skills and comic timing he would have been a star in Variety, but we’ll probably need a new Bruce Forsyth before too long.

Another injury to a U’s players provoked the Mansfield support again, “Cheat, cheat, cheat” they howled. Injured opposition players seemed to be the only thing that really floated their boat. To be fair to them though, what with their rough mining heritage they probably have a fixation about soft southern jessies and if they see someone go down with all four limbs still attached to his torso they just see red.

The game was now petering out; Eddie the Eagle looked on, arms folded and Colchester just had to see out the last few minutes. When Sammy Szmodics got word he was to be substituted he made his way to the far side of the pitch first, so he had farther to walk and then stopped to shake the referee by the hand as he went off. That use of precious goal scoring time was practically enough to win the U’s the game and in the moment it took referee Mr Kinesley to blow his whistle for the last time, it was possible for most of the 2,526 in attendance to be up and on their way home.

Colchester 1 Wycombe 0

Remaining true to my fictional new year’s resolution to ‘get out more’, I return for the second dull Tuesday night in a row to the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium for a second helping of Colchester United in the competition properly known at Football League Division Four.

Two pints of Adnams Old Ale in The Bricklayers Arms and a speeding, top-deck, bus ride that’s worth £2.50 of anyone’s money are the prelude to the shock of arriving at the stadium.  There’s a queue at the turnstiles because tonight’s the night the U’s play Wycombe Wanderers, their meanest, nastiest foe who once, long ago in 1991  pipped the U’s to promotion by scoring more goals. The rotters.  Like last week a steward asks if he can look in my bag, of course he can, but I tell him he probably won’t see much because its a navy blue bag and it’s awfully dark out here.  He peers down perfunctorily and fondles the bottom of the bag just a little before turning away, perhaps a tad embarrassed.

Into the ground and I immediately meet my next door neighbour, who explains that she is here to see her son take penalties at half time with the Coggeshall Under 15’s team; I’ll look out for that I tell her.  I meet her husband in the toilet who’s here for the same reason, although he’s in the toilet to have a piddle, like me.

After the usual modern age twee ‘sporting’ nonesense of handshakes and standing in a line, the game kicks off.  The teams are made up of the usual collection of young men with serious yet silly haircuts and Colchester once again field ex Ipswich prodigy Owen Garvan – Hurrah!  Wycombe meanwhile have a star in their midst , a star the size of a planet, Adebayo Akinfenwa who apparently weighs 16 stone.   Mr Akinfenwa’s football career spans a century, albeit the 21st one and he is a Football League legend who has also won medals in the Premier League, the Welsh Premier League; with Barry Town;  he is enormous, absolutely vast.  It might be an exaggeration to say he is worth the entrance money alone, but you get a lot for your money with Ade.  He doesn’t run so much as waddle about the pitch, but he knows where to be and when. He’s always in the right place at the right time, but when you’re as big as him it’s difficult not to be.  Ade is apparently known as ‘The Beast,’ but he seemed like a very lovely man indeed, playing as he did with a smile on his face despite being called a ‘fat bastard’ by those Col U wags behind the goal.  Far from being a beast Ade is the sort of bloke you’d happily invite round for afternoon tea and a plate of fancies with your mum. You wouldn’t want to invite a ‘beast’ round for that would you, they might leave something nasty in your downstairs toilet, and as Kevin Keegan might say, no ones a fan of that.

Inspired by Ade, as anyone would be, the Wycombe fans are in good voice and have a drum, which they bang, or one of them does.  Sensibly, those Wycombe fans who want to stand up do so at the back of the stand where they can see over the heads of those who prefer to sit. It looks a very neat and tidy arrangement, they’re not daft in Buckinghamshire.  Wycombe start well and whilst the Col U fans also have a drum they have no rhythm yet and their unco-ordinated shouts produce a hollow echo off the tin roof and walls.

Colchester send a shot past the post and the U’s fans offer a double salvo of “Fuck Off Wycombe!” but it somehow doesn’t quite sound quite right, saying that to an innocuous town in the home counties; you wouldn’t say that to Gerrards Cross now would you, so why Wycombe.  Things are getting nasty, well kind of, and Wycombe’s Will de Havilland is booked for not controlling his elbow well enough in the vicinity of someone else’s face.  I imagine the referee asking his name and saying “Really? de Havilland? What like her in Gone With The Wind?”

Moments later the U’s are in front and no one looks more surprised than the goalscorer George Elokobi whose spectacular effort from 2o odd yards arcs delightfully into the top corner; it might have been a cross originally though, there’s no knowing from where I’m sat. The U’s fans rise as one and a man in a beanie hat in front of me stands purposefully as if to address the players, and slowly stabs both his temples with his forefingers. Odd.

The U’s are in full flow and Brindley sends the ball low across the face of goal, like you do.  Then at the other end Akinfenwa literally squashes Brindley, who has to be shaken back into shape by the physio. Mascot Eddie the Eagle then helps referee Mr Kettle to ensure the ball is placed accurately in the little ‘D’ for a corner kick.  The scoreboard fleetingly advises us to kit ourselves out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at cufc retail, and by the look of a few people around me they have done just that.  Unimpressed, Olivia de Havilland shoves a Col U player and a bit later does it again, she is substituted at half-time.

The game is what you might call ‘attritional’.  A Wycombe player with a a hair cut which is part Marge Simpson part skinhead gets in to a good position, but then sends his cross far over everyone’s head, before scratching his own as if unable to fully comprehend what just happened.   Then U’s Lapslie has a free-kick awarded against him. “What about the foul earlier?” cries an angry, plaintiff voice. Indeed , what about it. Eh, Mr Kettle?  ” Oh sorry, you’re absolutely right, my mistake”. But no,  Mr Kettle didn’t say a word to his accuser; how cool is that?

At number 12 Wycombe have a player rejoicing under the name of Paris Cowan-Hall.  Paris, now there’s an exotic name for a footballer, but his double-barrelled surname perhaps suggests Patrician parents who benefitted from a classical education.  In Greek legend Paris was a bit like a stereotypical Premier League footballer; he was ‘one for the ladies’  having a fling with a nymph called Oenone before getting Aphrodite, Hera and Athena to get their kit off and then eloping with Helen who was already married to Menelaus king of Sparta; all of which resulted in the Trojan Wars and that big horse and everything.   Just thought you’d like to know in case they ask a question on University Challenge .

On the cusp of half time and the U’s keeper tries to look busy as he taps the soles of his boots on the goal posts and swigs from a bottle, even though he is only seconds away from a nice cup of half-time tea.  Sadly I am more than seconds from my half-time tea and spend so long in the not very long queue that I only return to the stand in time to see the Coggeshall Under 15’s leave the field, having presumeably scored all their penalties against the hapless Eddie the Eagle.  I’ll lie to the neighbours.

There’s just time to enjoy Pulp’s Mis-shapes over the tannoy before the action recommences. An early boot into touch sees a wonderfully disinterested looking ballboy in a bobble hat take an age to return the ball to a Wycombe player who seems to curb his impatience because the lad is so very small and looks so much like he’d rather be elsewhere.  I like to think that his dad was right chuffed to get young Tommy in as a ball-boy, but actually Tommy is day-dreaming about trying on his sister’s dresses or doing ballet.

Moving on and U’s earn an obvious corner . “Corner!” shouts a reedy voice behind me as if challenging Mr Kettle not to give it. Again Mr Kettle stays calm.  The game rolls on and Colchester have the ascendency, doing most of the attacking and doing it with a fair lick of pace. This is in contrast to Wycombe who seem restricted to move at the same pace as big Ade, after all, they wouldn’t want to leave him behind.  He nevertheless wins quite a few headers and  defies physics for one final moment in injury time and  has one cleared off the goal line.  The Wycombe fans have been silenced largely, although with 1o minutes to go they had raised a few “Come on Wycombe” chants to save face.

Responding to a prompt from the scoreboard the U’s fans get behind the U’s once more to carry their team over the winning line on a wave of vocal encouragement.  A fine win for the U’s and a most enjoyable evening for which credit must also go to the vanquished team and in particular Ade Akinfenwa, what a great bloke and worth a hundred Premier League players; by weight alone.