Swindon Town 1 Ipswich Town 2

 Swindon is by far the largest town in Wiltshire and is also home to the only Football League team in the county.  I like Swindon.  Despite being a long way from the coast, there is something a bit like Ipswich about it, particularly with its relationship to the county in which it is situated. Salisbury and Bury St Edmunds have their cathedrals, but whilst historically the locals there were poncing about singing psalms and reciting canticles Ipswich and Swindon folk were getting their hands dirty making stuff, or at least they were until the forces of international capitalism did for them.  Like Ipswich, Swindon is one of those rare, unpretentiously provincial towns that’s a decent size, is a respectable distance from London but isn’t ‘Up North’;  it’s like Northampton, Shrewsbury, Newport and, if you don’t count Staffordshire as ‘Up North’, Burton On Trent.    Added to that it’s got a Magic Roundabout, is only 20 kilometres or so from groovy places like Avebury stone circle (bigger and therefore better than Stone Henge) , Silbury Hill  and the Uffington white horse hill figure, and is home of the hard to pigeon-hole band XTC, although sadly they split up about fifteen years ago.  More recently, Swindon Town is the team supported by Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe in the wonderful BBC comedy series “This Country”.  Swindon also still has its own local brewery, Arkell’s, which has been fulfilling the town’s beer needs since 1843.

I first saw Ipswich Town play at the County Ground, Swindon in December 1987.  Fresh from having failed to return to the First Division at the first attempt the previous season, Town played newly promoted Swindon Town and lost 4-2 after initially coming back to equalise from 2-0 down at half-time.  Mark Brennan and David Lowe scored for Town and Ian Cranson also scored, but for Swindon, with a spectacular header.   I didn’t remember any of that, I had to look it up, but having had my memory jogged I do recall that the game also saw the debut for Town of the least successful of our Dutch imports, the less than  legendary Ulrich Wilson, on loan from FC Twente.  Since then Swindon has mostly been a lovely day out, with four wins in our last four visits, although we’ve not been round theirs now since the turn of the century, which is another reason why I would have been looking forward to today’s fixture.

Spared a 3 hour, 275 kilometre trip along the motorways of southern England I nevertheless still rock-up late at the on-switch of my retro-style Bush radio, which is already primed in a state of preparedness being perpetually tuned-in to BBC Radio Suffolk.   It’s as if I’ve only just pushed through the turnstile after hurriedly finishing my last pre-match pint of Arkell’s 3B, as at almost 3 o’clock I am greeted with the news that alongside Brenner Woolley today is former Town player Ian Atkins. Despite his having played over ninety games for Town, some as captain, I always think of Atkins as one of the most inelegant players I’ve ever seen play for Town; he’d get in today’s team mind.  As Brenner Woolley sets the scene and tells us that Swindon are wearing red shirts, white shorts and red socks I can hear Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s  rip-off of Aaron Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ blaring out from the County Ground’s public address system.  With the common man still absent from its stands and concourses I wonder to myself to whom Swindon Town are playing this little burst of populist Prog-Rock.  I’m as partial to a bit of Prog-Rock as the next grammar school boy born in the 1950’s or early 60’s, but as grand entry music for the players at a football match I would place ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ somewhere up close to “The boys are back in Town” in the league table of all-time naffness.  Give me “Entry of the Gladiators” or the Toreador song from Bizet’s Carmen every time.

How embarrassing

“It’s Teddy Bishop, going to be kicking off” announces Brenner and the game begins.  Somewhat inevitably Brenner’s commentary for now is obsessed with Town’s having failed to score a goal in over ten hours.  “Goals change games” says Ian revealing his  Birmingham accent. Well duh.  The game begins well for Town as you would hope against a team who have already been relegated after only forty-four games and have conceded eighty-four goals.  “Dozzell’s had a very good start at the moment” says Ian cautiously.  “Town on top at the moment” says Brenner with the same note of caution borne from bitter experience as Town win the game’s first corner.  “Swindon….they’re letting Northampton play”  adds Ian, already confused about which game he’s watching.

Inevitably, there is something of an end of season feel to the game, what with it being the end of the season and Brenner is soon indulging in playful commentator-speak. “ …bit of a school-boy error, Dobra” says the BBC man triumphantly.  Ian meanwhile soon reveals the contents of his own locker of sayings to fall-back on when your vocabulary has otherwise been exhausted.  Ian’s stock phrase is “to be fair”, which, to be fair, seems innocuous enough but it’s also largely unnecessary. “…leaving the space to attack, to be fair” is Ian’s first use of the phrase and he follows this up with “… this is where they had a little bit of a problem against Northampton, to be fair”.

Meanwhile, Brenner entertains us as he always does. “Payne, who’s sprung to life in the last few moments” says Brenner summoning, in my mind at least, a vision of some sort of resurrection,  before he then says “It’s Norwood with his pink boots who’s been penalised” leading me to wonder if the referee has awarded a free-kick against Norwood because of the colour of his boots; I wouldn’t be wholly against the  idea.  The game moves on and Brenner is soon tempting fate as he loves to do, telling us that “Swindon have never doubled Ipswich in a league season”.  It’s the sixteenth minute and fate is nearly tempted; “Pitman inside the area” says Brenner with rising excitement “…puts it past the post”.  Brenner confides that he was convinced Brett Pitman was going to score, and having heard his agitated commentary of the incident, it’s hard not to believe him.

Ipswich win a second corner; it comes to nothing.  “Dobra up on all fours, now ready to continue” says Brenner making it sound as if Town’s number 36 does actually scamper about the pitch as if he were a quadruped.  Nearly a quarter of the game has passed; “Town under pressure” is the latest assessment from Brenner.  Ian’s view is that Town are giving the ball away because they’re not strong enough to hold off challenges from Swindon players.

With the game into its second quarter Brenner starts feeling oddly compelled to say things:  “Jaiyesimi actually did very little against Ipswich a few weeks ago, it has to be said.” “Swindon the better side at the moment in this game, it has to be said”.  “Still Camp not had a save to make, it has to be said”.  It’s as if we’ve now reached a point in the game where Brenner can no longer carry on unless he gets these things off  his chest. It’s either that or he now feels that his audience has been listening long enough to be able to stand these harsh truths without bursting into tears.  I feel myself welling -up a little but pull through.

Five minutes later and things look up.  “Saved by Camp; are Ipswich Town ever going to score another goal?” asks Brenner after an “Almighty chance for Town” sees Camp divert a shot from Teddy Bishop, who is through with just the goalkeeper between him and glory.   As Brenner has told us in previous games “Paul Cook, screaming his heart out”, which as any cardiologist will tell you is not advisable. Shaken perhaps by hearing a grown man scream, Brenner seems to panic and when Swindon’s Christopher Missilou under hits a ball he tells us that “The Frenchman didn’t have enough air on that pass”.  It’s an odd description of what you’d normally expect a commentator of Brenner ‘s experience to call a ‘hospital pass’, added to which Missilou is Congolese, not French.

Armando Dobra shoots wide. “Dobra’s head is in his hands” says Brenner with such conviction that I half expect him to confirm that yes, Dobra’s head has actually come off and is in his hands.  A James Norwood shot is saved by Lee camp and Mark McGuinness heads the ensuing corner kick over the cross-bar.  It’s evident that Town are continuing to attack and Brenner is in positive mood. “Kane Vincent-Young over-hits that cross, but quite a lot” says Brenner trying to play down the full-back’s error. The same player then has a header saved by Camp “ I thought he was going to score there, Young” says Brenner, deceiving himself once again.  Ian assesses Vincent Young’s forays forward, “…like a wing-back, to be fair”.

With Town sounding like they are creating chances, the mystery remains why they have not scored and Ian enlightens us by telling us that what Town are missing is “someone of real presence in the box who can upset defenders”.  It’s an analysis that suggests to me that over the summer we should sign either a sort of Joan Rivers character capable of reducing defenders to tears or just put a ‘big bloke up front’.

“It’s now eleven hours without a goal” announces Brenner polishing the glass on his stop watch, but his words soon lose their meaning as “ Bishop goes down inside the box, the referee says penalty” and I somehow imagine the referee Mr Johnson turning in the direction of Brenner up in the stand and mouthing the word “penalty” to him .   “Please James, do not miss this opportunity” implores Brenner.  Norwood scores, “…the goal-drought is over” confirms Brenner.  “He deserves his goal at the moment” adds Ian introducing the slightly tantalising possibility that he might not deserve his goal later on and suggesting possibly that Ian believes undeserving players should have their goals taken away from them.  There then follows some blokey banter about Paul Cook having said he would do a lap of honour if Town scored. “Typical scally” says Ian “saying they’re going to do something and not doing it”.  I will admit to being a little surprised by Ian’s comments and can only think he is unaware of the risk of becoming the subject of a Liverpudlian version of a fatwa.

The first half ends with a chance for Gwion Edwards to double Town’s goal tally. “ Edwards shoots!” says Brenner excitedly “ …and the flag’s up” he continues with well-practised resignation.  Brenner asks Ian what he made of the first half. “A bit like a practice game” says Ian honestly.  “They’ve had chances that the players have missed” he adds un-controversially.  Ian’s advice for the second half, which sounds a bit like an extract from an instruction manual for something purchased in an Ann Summers shop is  “Rather than just sit on it, go and enjoy it”

Half-time is the familiar blur of kettle, tea and Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar.  For the second-half I am joined by my wife Paulene who, as I listen to the wireless through my earpiece will be watching the Ligue 1 game between Paris St Germain and Racing Club de Lens on the telly.  As I re-join the broadcast from BBC Radio Suffolk Brenner ‘advertises’ his forthcoming commentaries and explains that he will once again be with Ian for Tuesday’s match at Shrewsbury. “ Is that basically because Mills’ car doesn’t go to the other side of Colchester?” asks Ian, evidently still in banter mode and also daring to take Mick Mills’ name in vain.

As far as I can make out from the commentary the second half is much like the first. “Comes to Downes” calls out Brenner with rising excitement “…who skies it”.  Ian begins to add “ at this level” to the end of most of his explanations of what Town need to be doing. Nearly an hour has passed since kick-off.  “…gives it back to Norwood, Norwood prods it in, Ipswich now lead Swindon 2-0” exclaims Brenner. “He’s tucked that ball away well” adds Ian, whose analysis has otherwise increasingly come to depend on the phrase “bodies in the box”.

Troy Parrott replaces Teddy Bishop. “He looks like a nice little footballer” says Ian of Teddy, when asked for his opinion of the departing player’s contribution.  But it quickly transpires that Ian doesn’t really think there is a place for nice little footballers “at this level.” Brenner meanwhile advises us that it’s a case of “Town getting the job done, for what it’s worth”.  More substitutions follow. “Harrop and Bennetts both coming on to play a bit more football” is Brenner’s reassuring statement before they replace Edwards and Dobra.  As a rule it’s best when the substitutes come on to play football rather than just paint over the white lines or do a  bit of weeding.  Ian’s assessment of Edwards and Dobra is that they have “Been lively, without ever having any end product”; I believe it’s what seasoned commentators and sports hacks call ‘flattering to deceive’.

Less than twenty minutes of the basic ninety minutes remain. “Goodness me” says Brenner channelling Peter Sellers, almost. “Terrible goal-keeping from David Cornell” exclaims Brenner and Brett Pitman scores.  I had sort of hoped Pitman would score, I liked him as a player at Town; my impression is that managers don’t think he runs about enough; perhaps he doesn’t , but he still scores goals, which is what forwards are supposed to do.  “A Sunday league howler – no disrespect to the Sunday league by the way” says Ian of Cornell’s error and for some reason affording a respect to the Sunday league that he previously hadn’t afforded Scousers or Mick Mills.

A couple more minutes pass. “Surely a penalty, it’s a penalty” cries Brenner unable to contain his excitement as Troy Parrott is fouled.    James Norwood steps up to claim his hat-trick.  “Forward he comes, he’s missed it, unbelievable” says Brenner of a situation which in reality is all too believable.   The only good thing to come of the incident is Ian’s lugubrious West Midland’s pronunciation of Parrott.

“Kenlock’s had a decent game” says Ian generously. “Town holding on for a win” says Brenner and meanwhile Neymar puts Paris St Germain one-nil up at the Parc des Princes.  News arrives on BBC Radio Suffolk of scores in other matches; Peterborough United have pulled back to trail two-three having been three-nil down. “Well, some excitement there in that game” says Brenner with a hint of jealousy.   Perhaps losing his enthusiasm Brenner mis-pronounces the surname of Swindon’s Tom Broadbent, so it sounds like Broadband. Flynn Downes is booked for a foul. “That’s like a booking for the team” explains Ian, but strangely he doesn’t say “to be fair”.

The final minutes of the game drift away. “Typical end of season game” says Ian. There is still occasional excitement. “Fabulous defending from Woolfenden” says Brenner one minute, and then “lovely little ball to Parrott in the area!” says Brenner expectantly the next.  “ …ball up in the air, Parrott goes after it” continues Brenner and I imagine a blur of brightly coloured feathers taking flight.  The first half ends in Paris.  “You’d like to think they can see this one out, you’d like to think” says Brenner half-repeating himself for no apparent reason.  Time added on runs out. “There is the full-time whistle, at the ninth time of asking Paul Cook get his first away win” concludes Brenner.

Mentally exhausted, I switch off the radio and prepare to turn my attention to the game in Paris.  Later, I will journey down to the south of France courtesy of FFF tv to watch FC Sete, who have scored just twenty-eight goals in thirty-one games (a goals per game record even worse than  Ipswich’s)  beat  Orleans 1-0 and secure their place in the French third division.  Finally, this evening, to complete my  virtual tour of some of my favourite places I will tune in to watch Lille versus Nice in French Ligue 1, it’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do driving back along the M4.

Braintree Town 1 Truro City 1

It’s a mild and blowy Tuesday night in November and there’s a ‘top of the table clash’ just eight miles down the road from my house as Braintree Town play Truro City in the Vanarama National League South. It might not be far from my house, but Braintree is a bloody long way from Truro, 343 miles apparently and as far as any club has ever travelled to play a league match against Braintree Town. In awe of such a statistic I am inexorably drawn to witness the occasion.
I could get to Braintree by train, but I’d have to change at Witham and I don’t want to do that. So I take the easy option, which is to drive. Parking up near the end of Clockhouse Way at about ten past seven, the streets are quiet, with no one heading for the match,

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drawn by the eerie glow of the floodlights through the now mostly skeletal boughs of the trees. L S Lowry would never have made much of his painting ‘Going to the match’ if he’d lived and painted in Braintree. Entering the car park of the Ironmongery Direct Stadium (formerly and more prosaically known as Cressing Road) I stop to snap a photo for this blog. “How many pictures of grounds have you got then?” asks a man heading for the turnstile. He thinks I’m a ground hopper. I am a bit embarrassed, but say “Oooh, not many, a couple of hundred”.
The admission price this season at Braintree has very sportingly been reduced from £16 to £14 following relegation and similarly the programme is 50p cheaper too, although it’s no longer glossy, I like it all the more for that. I enter the stadium to the strains of Amen Corner: “If paradise is half as nice as being here with you…” which makes me feel wanted. Sadly the welcoming choice of music does not last until kick-off as the two teams enter the field to Emerson Lake & Palmer’s “Fanfare for the common man”. I say Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s; but it was only their arrangement of a piece written by American composer Aaron Copland, which your common man might possibly not know. It’s no less appropriate for work-a-day Braintree but it’s a bit naff too. But there’s nothing very exotic about the Vanarama National League South,

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as its name perhaps suggests; like a lot of non-league football it is the haunt of builders and ‘White Van Man’, which is possibly why Vanarama, purveyors of commercial vehicles, thought it worth their while to sponsor it.
I take up a position at the end of the low metal roofed terrace on the east side of the ground, known as The Shed. Three Truro fans are attaching flags to the back wall of the stand, one of which refers to Truro being the Tin Men.

There is a larger group of Truro fans stood behind the goal at the end of the ground that the teams appeared from; they have a big Cornish flag. Truro City kick-off the game towards those supporters, wearing all blue, whilst Braintree make it a colourful spectacle by wearing all orange. The three Truro fans immediately make one helluva racket repeating “Truro, Truro, Truro” over and over and over again to the tune of Amazing Grace. A larger bunch of Braintree fans stood just a few yards away look on slightly bemused or perhaps impressed; eventually they respond with some chants of “Iron, Iron, Iron” , but not any old iron, the Iron that is Braintree Town’s nickname. They soon give up in the face of Truro’s Amazing Grace however, which eventually ends abruptly with a little cough. The Truro fans then start to sing ”Come on Truro, come on Truro” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne which is predictably answered with “Fuck off Truro, fuck off Truro” to the same tune; the concept of terrace wit is grossly exaggerated.
Meanwhile, jet airliners from Stanstead soar overhead, the noise of their engines blotted out by three blokes from Cornwall under an echoing tin roof. On the pitch, Braintree look sharp from the start with their diminutive number seven darting about on the wing just in front of me and the Cornishmen. Both teams seem to be made up of three or four enormous blokes; at least two at the back and one up front. The remainder of the team look tiny by comparison, it’s as if the Vanarama National League South imposes some sort of combined height quota on its teams; the aggregate height of the team not being allowed to exceed the length of seven Transit vans placed end to end. Truro’s number four is possibly the most enormous man on the pitch, he sports a beard and although he is absolutely massive he doesn’t really deserve the ‘fat bastard’ epithet the Braintree supporters inevitably award him.
The three Cornishmen embark on an acapello rendition of “Come On Truro” in what is rapidly becoming an evening of K-tel’s greatest hits from the terraces . The Truro supporters behind the goal break into a rare song and the vocal threesome sing “We forgot that you were here” to Bread of Heaven. Intrigued by this I ask one of the Cornishmen why they aren’t they with the others behind the goal. He tells me it’s because they wanted to be under the roof. I ask if there isn’t some split between Truro supporters, “Don’t ask” he says, so I don’t. One of their flags is for the Truro City Independent Supporters Club so I just speculate that may be there is some sort of great Cornish schism much like the one that afflicted the Christian Church in the middle of the eleventh century. (1054).
Meanwhile it’s not a bad match, the blend of big blokes and smaller ones is an even one and the teams are well matched, but to the extent that the ball is rarely in danger of hitting either goal net. I am conscious that a man in a hi-vis jacket has been stood next to me for several seconds and I turn slightly to my right to face him. He’s a steward, and it’s as if he’s been waiting for me to acknowledge him, “Could you stand behind there please sir” he says, gesturing towards the chunky orange crush barrier. “Okay” I say cheerily, not wishing to cause a scene, although I had been quite happy where I was. The Beatles “Hey Jude” is now the vehicle for the latest chants of “Truro” whilst Braintree supporters weirdly and somewhat mournfully appropriate “Sloop John B” to chant “We know who we are, We know who we are, There’s one team in Essex, We know who we are”.
It’s about twenty past eight and suddenly the Braintree Town defence mysteriously melts away allowing Truro’s number ten Cody Cooke to run through and score a goal. The Truro fans are very pleased and inevitably have a song to celebrate the occasion as they tell us “ Cody Cooke is one of us, he loves Truro” although I thought it sounded like he loves Jesus, which of course he might. Half-past eight arrives and brings with it half-time and I move to the terrace by the players tunnel.

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The tannoy treats us to a rarely heard hit from 1970, Blackfoot Sue’s “Standing In The Road”; tonight at Cressing Road is proving to be a musical wonderland.
The second half begins and Braintree quickly hit their first decent shot on target and then they score as Roman Michael-Purcell easily turns in a cross from Phil Roberts who had made an exciting run forward. Restless as I am I am now sat in the box like main stand. Behind me a man who probably has a mental illness provides an occasional commentary announcing players names and incidents. His voice reminds me a little of the late John Arlot; he has a slight burr which lengthens the players’ names. He seems to have a love for the sounds of the names and is familiar with them all; he repeats some of them often such as Marcel Barrington and Christian Frimpong, who he calls Ping Pong. His ‘commentary’ is in in the style of John Motson as he announces substitutions for both teams but then Truro’s Andrew Neal flattens Frimpong in full flight. “Refereee, refereeee!” our commentator calls and then adds “Fucking cunt” . Then, to close this episode he says “Yellow card, Andrew Neal, the cheeky little fellow”.
The wind is getting stronger and swirls of willow leaves spiral down in front of the stand onto the edge of the pitch. More substitutions are announced behind me as is the fact that Matt Baxter does not come off the bench for Braintree, “ Not Matt Baxter, not Matt Baxter” is the refrain. The game remains tight and interesting as both teams play to win but don’t really come that close to getting a second goal. Truro substitute Tyler Harvey likes to run at the Braintree defence and creates a couple of half-chances and with his long tied back hair he looks like he might be found surfing on Newquay beach when not turning out on a Tuesday night for Truro City. I like to think there is a VW campervan somewhere in the club car park.
The match draws to a close with both sides going for goal unsuccessfully. It was tight at the top of the Vanarama National League South table when this game began and now when it ends at a bit after half past nine, it still is; a point for each team alters nothing. The home crowd are perhaps more disappointed not to have won than the travellers from Cornwall who have at least had a road trip and a jolly sing-song; and me, I’ve had a lovely time.