Emerging from Colchester station I crossed through a queue of cars and coughed a little at the fumes left hanging in the evening air. It was cool, it was mid- February, man. Valentines day and my wife had stayed in with Adrian Rabiot and Marco Verrati. A hoarding announced that a brick brutalist building (if that is possible), former offices overlooking the railway, is being converted into flats, Station Court it will be called, what a lovely name, only one down from Station Mews. I felt a little sick, it may have been those fumes, but was more likely the two Greggs sausage rolls eaten on the train from Ipswich. Note to self, never buy a Greggs sausage roll again, they only cost a pound each for a reason.
The Bricklayers Arms is a satisfyingly short walk from Colchester station and with a pint of Adnams Old Ale for £3.65 I sat down at a round table to sup and read. I was one corner of a triangle with two empty chairs, no one asked if they were free, the pub wasn’t that busy. I am reading a book entitled ‘The Numbers Game – Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong’ and soon I am going to catch a bus to see Colchester United play Crawley Town in what I call Football League Division Four. I am not a football obsessive though, in fact I hate the bloody game and later I am going to write a fucking blog about it.
There were only two other people on the top deck of the bus to Layer Road (£2.50 return fare), or the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Community Stadium as I believe it is more properly known. Lonely and scared I spoke to them; one was an occasional Crawley Town follower who only began to take an interest when they were drawn against Manchester United in the FA Cup; he knew nothing about their players but nevertheless liked the club and wore the scarf, he was like a reverse Manchester United fan, I thought he was laudable. His companion was in IT and had worked for Ipswich Town (haha ITIT) during the George Burley and David Sheepshanks era, but left disillusioned by the budget cutting Marcus Evans. What is Marcus Evans up to at Ipswich?
Having resisted the temptation to buy a cuddly Eddie the Eagle mascot in the club shop I queued for what must have been seconds to get into the stadium where I immediately met a lady steward I know, we hugged; I felt blessed, all football supporters should get a hug from a steward I thought (if they want one) , a sort of apology for that frisking and request to look in your bag.
After urinating in a slightly smelly and drafty room of shiny steel troughs and breeze blocks I sat down in time to hear the stadium announcer tell us that Owen Garvan would be wearing the two little ducks shirt; although he actually said twenty-two. Owen Garvan played for Ipswich Town, I am an Ipswich season ticket holder, Roy Keane sent Owen Garvan away to Crystal Palace, I liked Owen Garvan, I hate Roy Keane.
The Jam’s A Town Called Malice played on the public address, was it a reference to Colchester or Crawley? The ‘real’ Eddie the Eagle mascot did a Mick Jagger impression to a Rolling Stones tune and the scoreboard advertised a night out at the stadium to see the Rollin’ Clones, a tribute act . I wondered if it would be possible to clone Keith Richards or has his DNA been irreparably damaged like his face.
Yay, the game had started. George Elokobi was playing for Colchester and looked a different shape to when I had last seen him play for Braintree Town; was he slimmer or was he wearing a truss? For one moment the floodlights reflected so brightly off the head of Crawley’s Kaby Djalo I thought he was sporting a Davy lamp, he wasn’t. A Colchester player jumped at a Crawley man, falling over him as he followed the trajectory of the ball; free-kick to Crawley, “e’s given it the uvverway” moaned the bloke in front of me expounding his ongoing critique of the referee Lee Collins. As United’s Dickenson vainly tried to manoeuvre around the Crawley full-back and ran the ball into touch, another concerned Colcestrian desperately called out ” ‘elp ‘im” . But Colchester were doing alright, striking at the very heart of the Crawley defence and after 18 minutes Johnstone scored, shooting beneath ‘keeper Morris and all was well.
Having seen the joy that a goal can provide, five minutes on and Crawley Town got one too, a corner being diverted into the net from very close range by a man called Smith. That popular beat combo The Cure and their frontman Robert Smith were from Crawley. I hoped it was a relative at least. The scoreboard declared Barry’s 50 year love for Joan because it was Valentine’s day, but her joy was likely dented nine minutes later as a high cross was headed back to Smiffy and he volleyed the ball unsympathetically into the Colchester net. The natives were no longer happy . ” The trouble with this now is…” said a bloke behind me, but trailed off frustratingly; what was the trouble with this, apart from the obvious?
Half-time. Cup of tea for a pound and a check of the half time results, then back for more. Smith again, this time low and at an angle from 20 yards, 3-1 to Crawley. Smith 23,34,52 (HAT) read the scoreboard and Smith was worth his hat, although he deigned to wear it. Unless you were a fan of the 1946 New Towns Act and its subsequent sport related spin-off things were not looking good, although another bloke behind me insisted on encouraging the U’s by repeatedly yelling ” Come on U’s, you’re all over them”, but he might have been being ironic, it was hard to say. Another spectator was obsessed with Crawley Town having been a non-league side only recently, as if that meant they would be forever inferior. There’s never a psychologist about when you need one. Personally, I was now struggling with the smell of the after-shave or scent of the man in front of me who I thought, for a man in his seventies, had very, very neatly coiffured hair; I surmised he had a post match Valetine’s date with a lady who liked smelly old men.
The ninety minutes became 98 minutes because the referee had made a spectacle of himself by hurting his leg and eventually being substituted, and Colchester pulled a goal back. The locals emitted some throaty growls of encouragement , reviving memories of the Layer Road roar, but they couldn’t turn the tide of progress and Britain’s reputedly oldest town was unable to gain parity with one of Britain’s new towns.
Romans and Ancient Britons 2 Planned Post-War Utopia 3
I caught the bus, I caught the train, I walked home to my wife and her memories of Adrian Rabiot the pre-Raphaelite Parisian and Michaelangelo’s Paulo Verratti.