Quevilly-Rouen Metropole 1 Stade Lavallois 3

The Rouen metropolitan area is massive, with a population of over 700,000. It is a little surprising therefore that Rouen hasn’t had a first division football team since 1985.  FC Rouen was that team, but the previously less successful Quevilly-Rouen Metropole is now the more ‘senior’ club in the city, this being their third season in Ligue 2 since 2017, with FC Rouen being in the amateur fourth division (Ligue National 2). Both clubs play at the Stade Robert-Diochon, named after a former FC Rouen player and situated in the suburb of Le Petit-Quevilly.

Returning from holiday in Brittany on a Saturday, a stop in Rouen was planned having seen that Quevilly-Rouen would be at home that Saturday evening and I’d always wanted to tread in the footsteps of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Staying in a city centre hotel, it is too far to walk to Stade Robert-Diochon, and Google maps tells us that tram line T4 runs from Vieux Marche to Zenith-Parc Expo. Disappointingly, there is in fact no tram only an articulated bus, although the bus stop, which is actually on Boulevard des Belges, does look like a tram stop having an elevated platform.  The fare is 1 euro 70 and the journey takes about 15 minutes, crossing over the murky, swirling waters of the River Seine and on through the mostly rather dull looking suburbs.  The Parc-Zenith Expo bus stop is less than 50 metres from the stadium and the guichets from which match tickets are sold are at the back of the Tribune Lenoble, which is directly on Avenue des Canadiens.  Tickets in the two lateral stands are either 12 euros for the Tribune Lenoble, which faces west and therefore faces the setting sun, or 20 euros for the larger Tribune Horlaville where the posh people and ‘wags’ sit. Feeling flush, stretching for the hi-life and not wanting the sun in our eyes my wife Paulene and I opt for the 20 euro seats.

After the usual frisking by some very miserable looking stewards/bouncers I make my way to the club boutique, which is not so much a boutique as a bloke stood behind a lock-up counter with some shirts hanging up behind him.  There isn’t much in the way of desirable souvenirs to be had unfortunately, although the colour A5 programmes is free of charge, as is the custom in France.  To get to our seats we must have our tickets checked and walk behind the steel framed temporary stand behind the goal, we are about to head off when out of the corner of my eye I spot an emaciated looking furry, red shape sloping off towards the main stand.  “Monsieur, un photo s’il vous plait?” I call to him and sportingly the creature stops and poses for a couple of snaps with my wife before heading on his way.  He was very friendly and obliging, even if he was one of the most sickly-looking club mascots I have ever seen, with his mangy looking red fur flecked with yellow ‘spots’.

The main stand at the stadium is quite impressive; a tilted concrete deck with a row of red executive boxes seemingly suspended above it beneath a light and airy roof. There is a raised concourse where I find a buvette from which I buy 50cl of beer for 5 euros, a hot dog for 4 euros and a cup of Fanta for 3 euros. The man serving in the buvette speaks some English and we enter a reciprocal agreement in which he helps me with my French and I help him to add three, four and five and calculate the change from a twenty euro note.

Having found our seats and whilst consuming our drinks and my hot dog the teams are announced by the leather jacketed female stadium announcer ,who will watch the game leaning on the fence between the dug outs. The game begins, with Quevilly-Rouen or QRM as they are called, getting first go with the ball and kicking towards the Laval supporters who are at the city end of the ground, the Tribune Erdre.  Presumably, QRM’s red and yellow home kit is in the wash because they are sporting a boring, immeasurably dull all-black kit, with Laval in its polar opposite, all-white.  As an opening gambit QRM simply boot the ball forward into touch as if playing rugby, a surprisingly direct, but aimless approach. Unfortunately, it is a precursor of what is to come, QRM are terrible and although they do manage a shot on goal it is blazed wide.  In the sixth minute Laval’s number nine, Geoffrey Durbant, a man whose mop of dyed blond hair looks like a small fleece, falls in the penalty area under a challenge from the stupendously lanky Till Cissokho; referee Monsieur Remi Landry does not hesitate to award Laval a penalty kick.  Durbant recovers from his fall to score from the spot as he shoots a little to the left of centre whilst World Cup winner Lilian Thuram’s cousin Yohann, the QRM goalkeeper, helpfully dives to the right.  The knot of fifty or so Laval fans at the other end of the ground and the bloke sitting behind me celebrate wildly.

Four minutes later and Laval produce some excellent play down the right with an interchange of passing ending with Durbant crossing the ball. The ball is flicked on by Zakaria Naidji as Thuram flaps for the ball and it arcs across to the far post where Julien Maggioti places it simply into the middle of the empty net with that most humbling of goals, the stooping header. Laval lead 2-0.

It seems a matter of how many more goals will Laval score.  QRM are abysmal, they have no apparent plan and some of them seem to lack basic skills; after just ten minutes Laval look likely to win, and win comfortably.  But strangely the expected goals do not happen and ten minutes later QRM have found their mojo and are competing.  Unfortunately, the first physical manifestation of this is not a goal but Garland Gbelle being the first player to be booked, as he fouls Maggioti.  The booking is a good one though with Monsieur Landry somewhat alarmingly brandishing his yellow card as if making a Nazi salute. 

In the Tribune Lenoble the bare-chested QRM ultras are likely to be feeling a little chilly as the sun sets behind the Tribune Horlaville, but they’re not letting on but they’re chants are at best repetitive.  To be honest the atmosphere inside the ground isn’t exactly fervid but the app on my mobile will later record that Paulene and I are two of three-thousand souls here tonight in the 12,000 capacity stadium, so body count-wise it’s similar to watching Colchester United on a slightly better than average day.  Suddenly a shrill, piercing shout from somewhere behind me to my left penetrates my ear drum. It happens again and again and sound like a small yapping dog.  In fact, the shrieks are emanating from a small boy, probably about eight or nine years-old, and he is screaming “Allez QRM”.  Sadly no one tries to throttle him, but  I do admire his passionate support for his team and can sense his frustration with them and that he is a lone voice in the Tribune Horlaville.  If there were any more voices like his however I might have to tear my ears off or beat my brains out on the concrete steps of the stand.

With twelve minute to go until half time Laval record their first booking of the evening as Djibril Diaw attempts to remove the legs of Mamadou Camara, but is spotted doing so by Monsieur Landry. The evening is now coming on and as the light fades and the warmth of the day subsides I can smell the lush turf, probably for the first time this season, although this is in part due to the pitch having seemingly been heavily watered, as evidenced by the spurt of spray flicked up from the grass as the ball travels across it.

A minute later Gbelle’s shot from a free-kick is saved by Alexis Sauvage in the Laval goal but he can’t keep hold of the ball and it is inelegantly bundled into the net by Christophe Diedhiou from embarrassingly close range.  Laval have a goal back and the nearby squealing child simply won’t shut up.  The half plays out in a series of cheap free-kicks and Laval take a two bookings to one lead to match the actual score line as Dembo Sylla’s attempts to steal Gustavo Sangare’s shirt provoke more dubious arm action from Monsieur Landry.

Half-time brings no particular delights, although out of a total of nine advertisements in the programme I count two for boulangeries and patisseries, two for restaurants and one for retirement flats with a restaurant on the ground floor.  

The second half begins at a minute past eight o’clock and continues as the first half ended with a succession of fouls and attempts to win free-kicks almost as if the players are challenging the referee to make wrong decisions.  Six minutes into the half and Laval’s Anthony Goncalves is the next player to see the yellow card after he clatters Sangare.  A minute later Bryan Goncalves dithers for Laval rather than booting it clear or seeing a pass and is robbed of the ball by Camara, but before Camara can shoot, Goncalves recovers brilliantly to hook the ball away from him, it’s an exciting piece of play but only serves as the prelude to a run of several consecutive fouls which see three Laval players booked in the space of seven minutes.  After  Bryan Goncalves’ booking, Naidji beats two players to get himself inside the penalty area before tumbling to the ground and being booked for ‘simulation’, a term that might refer both to the act of simulating diving from a high board and simulating being fouled.  The final booking for the time being, of Antony Goncalves for tugging a shirt, leads to a free-kick from which, after the ball is booted and headed back and forth for a bit, is eventually volleyed wide of the goal by Camara with a shot which is spectacularly disappointing in its accuracy.

Substitutions, including the appearance of the beautifully named Balthazar Pierret for QRM ensue for both teams as both conformation of the result and an equaliser are desperately sought by the respective coaches.  QRM are pressing and have two players up front now, a decision which if nothing else might help the half-naked ultras warm themselves with hope and expectation.  But QRM’s luck is out as the ball is pumped forward by Laval.   Till Cissokho looks to have it under control as he gets to it first and flicks it around Naidji and steps around him, but Naidji falls to the ground and Monsieur Landry adjudges this to be because Cissokho has pulled him back or tripped him; he promptly salutes Cissokho with his red card in the practised fashion and the towering centre-half trudges off.

From the resultant free-kick, Magiotti directs the ball over the cross-bar after another player first wastes his time and energy by running up as if to the kick the ball but then steps over it; no one was fooled, except perhaps Maggiotti.  Immediately, even more substitutions are made as both coaches seek to either exploit the imbalance in the number of players on each team or negate it.  Just four minutes after the sending off a decent passing moving by Laval is crowned by a smart overlapping run by Maggiotti who sweeps the ball into the corner of the QRM net to effectively seal the result. 3-1 to Laval.

Sixteen minutes remain of normal time, but QRM don’t look the sort of team capable of pulling back a two-goal lead when the opposition have one more player than they do, and this indeed proves to be the case.  Even the ultras have fallen quiet, although this is only temporary as either boredom, amphetamines or a sudden realisation that standing half naked beside a damp football pitch on a late September Saturday evening is all they have , and they burst back into life with some more repetitive chants of “Allez, Allez, Allez”.  Happily for me, the screeching child to my left has possibly lost his voice altogether and may require surgery to get it back.

The addition of just two minutes additional time is a sensible and pragmatic decision in the circumstances and once it has elapsed, without undue incident, Paulene and I depart the Stade Robert-Diochon as we entered it.  We head for the bus back to town, which we will be impressed to learn from the  bus driver as we try to tender our fares is completely ‘Gratuit’; this is the ultimate indication of being in a truly civilised country and therefore not something ever likely to happen in Liz Truss’s United Kingdom.  We reflect as we wait for the bus to depart the stop that oddly, given how ineffective QRM have been for much of the time, this has been a quite entertaining match and one which, with a few thousand more people in the stadium might have been even better still.  Neither QRM or Laval are going to make it into the not particularly select band of ‘French teams that I like’ but I will nevertheless always remember tonight fondly, for the mascot if nothing else.

FC Lorient 3 FC Nantes 2

To Ipswich Town supporters like me, FC Lorient is known as the club from which the Town bought Ulrich Le Pen, a slight winger who was injured just minutes after coming on in a match against Bolton Wanderers and only ever featured in one other first team game, an FA Cup tie which I can’t remember. To the wider world Lorient is France’s second largest fishing port and home of a French submarine dockyard which grew out of the massive reinforced concrete U-Boat docks built by the Nazis during World War Two.  Sadly for Lorient, the town was mostly flattened by allied bombs as the Nazis were pushed out of France in 1944 and whilst the re-built town is well laid out with buildings in a quiet, modernist style, it doesn’t have the architectural verve of Le Havre or Amiens, or even, come to that of Plymouth and Bristol.

Today however FC Lorient host their Breton neighbours from 170 kilometres away (1hour and 51 minutes up the E60 according to Google maps) FC Nantes, but my wife Paulene and I have travelled a mere 40 kilometres from the campsite where we are staying in Carnac.  Car parking in Lorient on a Sunday is a curious affair as most of the town centre car parks are closed as is much of the town centre itself, including the tourist information office. There is plenty of street parking however with the usual restrictions being suspended. The Stade du Moustoir, home of FC Lorient is in an eminently sensible town centre location much like Ipswich’s Portman Road, and it is somewhat remarkably within 50 metres of the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and just a short walk from the main shopping streets, railway and bus stations.  The purpose in closing the car parks would seem to be to make people travel responsibly by bus, train, bike or on foot, although some parking can be pre-booked by those signing up to a car sharing scheme.

Paulene and I have arrived in Lorient in plenty of time to nab a handy street parking place.  Our short walk to the Stade de Moustoir affords a sneak preview of the stadium with the already illuminated floodlights being visible between the gaps between the buildings in nearby streets.  Near the railway station a bar has been requisitioned by visiting Nantes fans; a group of police stand a discreet distance away but there is no hint of any bad behaviour and we see many Nantes and Lorient fans walking to the stadium together.  Reaching the stadium early, we are in time to see the home team alight from their team bus wearing their horizontally striped, Breton-style jumpers or training tops. A crowd are waiting to see the players arrive and a ‘welcome arch’ has been erected as the gateway from the bus into the stadium.  The frontage of the Stade de Moustoir is clad with vertical strips of timber and looks every bit like a modern office or block of flats.  Whilst outside the ground, I get my first glimpse of the unusual club mascot, Merlux le Merlu (pretty much ‘Hakey the Hake’ in English) as he welcomes the players off the bus.

With the team in the stadium, the turnstiles open and Paulene and I enter also, but are surprised to be lectured by an officious man who tells us that we cannot take a bottle of water into the stadium, although he can exercise discretion with regard to Paulene’s bag.  Paulene had had an asthma attack as we approached the stadium and the very kind security man on the door at the club shop had arranged to get me a bottle of water for her.  I had returned to the club shop to source vital souvenirs of our visit but found that some of the items I might buy such as a mug or cuddly hake would, like the bottle of water, not be permitted in the ground.  Had I seen the e-mail the club sent me this morning I would have known that the LFP (French football league) had banned the carrying of virtually anything into football grounds this season, presumably in response to Marseille’s Dimitri Payet (known by me as the Very Hungry Caterpillar due to his ‘haircut’) getting hit on the head by a plastic bottle at Lyon last season as he went to take a corner.

Having located our seats (20 euros each) in the Tribune Credit Mutuelle de Bretagne, a quite small single tier stand with a fabulous shuttered concrete roof and light steel and glass doors redolent of a 1950’s school hall, I set off to explore and perhaps look for beer.  I am quickly amazed and overjoyed to find that I can walk right the way round this stadium through the concourses of each stand. Behind the goal, the stand has access to the club shop which is now shut to the outside world.  The concourses are regularly punctuated with a variety of food and drink outlets and the club markets these as Les Corners du Moustoir.  Having passed by the Tavarn Lancelot, I stop at the Tavarn Morgana for an organic beer called Lancelot IPA (4 euros 50), brewed by the Breton Lancelot brewery. I mainly choose this beer so that I can pronounce Lancelot with a French accent (Lon-slow), something that has never failed to amuse me ever since seeing director Robert Bresson’s film Lancelot du Lac on BBC2’s Film International one Saturday night back in the 1970’s. Having consumed my beer, I return to my seat clutching two free eight-page match programmes and a Breton flag; there were piles of them on the floor beneath the programmes with a sign urging me and everyone else to take one.

At a quarter to three a ship’s siren sounds three times and the scoreboard tells us there are fifteen minutes to go until Coup d’envoi (kick-off); the build up to the match begins.  As an opening act in the pre-match ritual an enthusiastic woman strides about the pitch in front of the main stand and sings the Breton anthem, whilst the whole crowd wave their Breton flags and club banners in a show of regional, celtic pride.  On the fabulously named Tribune B&B Hotels (B&B Hotels Stand), where the central section of the lower tier is occupied by the loudest Lorient ultras, an orange and black tifo folds down from the top tier to cover the whole stand. As the teams process onto the pitch to stand before the Ligue 1 banner and club crests, fireworks are set off on the pitch, more banners are waved and the Nantes fans, who fill the away enclosure in the corner between the Tribune Mutuelle de Bretagne and the Tribune Lorient Agglomeration wave a few flares about, making me wonder if they managed to smuggle in any bottles of water too; it’s all rather thrilling.

With the pyrotechnics and flags cleared away the game begins with Nantes getting first go with the ball and kicking towards the Tribune B&B hotels.  Nantes are in their signature kit of all yellow, whilst Lorient sport their traditional orange shirts, black shorts and white socks.  The atmosphere inside the stadium is wonderful, it has all the excitement of a ‘local’ derby game, but as well as the Nantes fans in the away enclosure there are plenty of them sitting with the Lorient supporters in all four stands and there are  dads with sons, and dads with daughters, and mums and dads with whole families and every family combination, and then there are the ultras standing on their seats and singing and mostly stripped to the waist showing off their rippling beer bellies. Brittany has its own cola called Breizh Cola, and my favourite name of one of the ultras groups is Breizh Tango.

Nantes start the match better than Lorient who look a little wobbly like a new-born foal or perhaps a young hake. It’s still a bit of a shock however when in the 13th minute a Quentin Merlin corner for Nantes is headed into the Lorient net from close range at the near post by Ignatius Ganago.  I have come to this match today to support Lorient and am wearing my orange Ipswich Town shirt in solidarity, they are supposed to win, but they are losing 0-1.

Lorient are fortunately stung into action by the goal as if Nantes had been a jellyfish and just six minutes later Stephane Diarra embarks on a dribble down the right and is literally ‘hacked down’ close to the edge of the Nantes penalty area by Andrei Girotto.  It takes a little while for the free-kick to be organised, but its worth waiting for as Dango Ouattara steps up to curl the ball beautifully over the defensive wall and into the top left hand corner of a stationery Alban Lafont’s goal.  It’s a goal that will be a joy forever and the score is one all.

The football flows back and forth and Lorient have grown into the game with their pacey wide and forward players constantly threatening, but Nantes are strong and well organised.  In defence for Nantes, the huge Nicolas Pallois strides about with his shorts hitched up showing off his massive thighs, which greatly impresses Paulene.  A 33rd minute corner goes to Lorient as a Stephane Diarra shot is deflected, but a minute later Ignatius Ganago runs onto an Evann Guessand through ball; he looks way offside, but he rounds the Lorient ‘keeper Yvon Mvogo and it is not until the ball is rolling over the goal line that the linesman puts his flag up.  It’s a ludicrous piece of assistant refereeing, although we then have to wait whilst the VAR people confirm that Ganago was offside – of course he was!

As Lorient begin to look more dangerous in attack, Enzo le Fee, who after the Arthurian theme with the bar and the beer makes me think of Morgan le Fey, and the incongruously named Bonke Innocent both have shots blocked for the home team.  Dango Outtara, a 20-year-old from Burkina Faso is also making some fantastic speedy runs for them too, inspiring repeated chants of “Allez Lorient, Allez Lorient” from the home crowd.  Five minutes of normal time remain in the first half and Nantes’ Moses Simon is the first player to be booked by referee Johan Hamel as he reduces Enzo Le Fee to a quivering heap on the turf with what appeared to be a well-aimed slap in the face.  The final minute of the half sees Nantes’ Ludovic Blas cut in from the right and have a decent shot tipped over the cross bar by Mvogo and then, as Lorient break way from the ensuing corner Pedro Chrivella scythes down Diarra to become the second Nantes player to have his name recorded by Monsieur Hamel.  A minute of time added-on is played and it is mi-temps (half-time).

Disappointingly mi-temp fails to offer up the spectacle of supporters attempting to toss a hake into a yoghurt pot or any similar test of skill inspired by local sponsors, but happily I am on the end of the row and close enough to the stairs to make it quickly to the toilet before pretty much anyone else, and that’s good enough for me.  Paulene takes a chance on the queues for the ‘ladies’ having subsided with a couple of minutes to go until the game begins again.  She returns late for the re-start and asks if she has missed anything, but I can’t in all honesty say she has.

The match resumes and the first action of note sees Lorient’s current top scorer Terem Moffi delight the crowd with an excellent dribble into the penalty area.  Even more impressively, he wears the number thirteen shirt.  Denis Appiah becomes the third Nantes player to be booked after fouling Moffi and then just twelve minutes into the second half Lorient boldly make two substitutions with Julian Ponceau replacing Bonke Innocent and Stephane Diarra making way for Yohan Cathine. Three minutes later and the scoreboard announces that it is the 56th minute. “Faites un Bruit” it then says (make a noise) and at least some of the crowd do so, although to be fair it’s been pretty noisy all along.  As an Ipswich supporter this apparently random entreaty to the fans across the whole ground seems like a good idea.  In this case it seems to work too, because there is some response and four minutes later a superb passing move down the Lorient left climaxes with Yoann Cathline sweeping the ball majestically into the top right-hand corner of the goal net from about 20 metres out, and Lorient lead 2-1.

Stade du Moustoir is now a cauldron of noise as Lorient fans celebrate, and like the best supporters should, Nantes fans get behind their team too, when they need it most. “Allez, Allez; Allez, Allez” echoes around from tribune to tribune and it’s hard to tell if it’s the Lorient or Nantes fans singing it, but it’s probably both.  It is certain however who is singing “Lorientaises, Lorientaises”.  With the home crowd exultant, it feels like good timing when the scoreboard announces today’s attendance with the words “Vous etes 15,081” (literally “you are 15,081”). It’s a figure close to the capacity of this ground which somehow feels and looks bigger than it is, whilst at the same time feeling compact and intimate; the orange colour scheme and all orange banks of seats doubtless help to create this effect.   “Lorient, Lorient” shout the crowd, punctuating the words with three successive claps.

Less than twenty minutes of normal time remain, and Lorient make a double substitution, replacing Moffi with Ibrahime Kone and Laurent Abergel with Adil Aouchiche, a recent signing from St Etienne.  The impact is immediate as Kone and Outtara exchange a couple of passes,  the last one of which puts Ikone through on goal with just Alban Lafont to beat, which he does, side footing the ball left-footed into the far corner of the goal.  I can’t help it, but I leap up in the air along with everyone else wearing orange.  Lorient lead 3-1.  Surely Les Merlus can’t lose now, although an iffy pass almost gives Nantes a run on goal, resulting in Julian Laporte being booked for his efforts to recover the situation, and then Kone also lunges in and is booked too.  The crowd chant “Lorientaises, Lorientaises” to celebrate their lead and to give the team an extra bit of support; and they need it as Ludovic Blas produces an excellent dribble to the edge of the box before sending a shot against the foot of the goalpost, which rebounds out and is cleared.  The Lorient supporters remain joyful and confident however, even complacent, and a Mexican Wave begins, but fortunately not many join in and it quickly peters out.

Five minutes of normal time remain and Nantes are pushing forward all the time, but without success; they don’t really seem to have the guile to get through the Lorient defence.  If Nantes are going to score they will need some luck and that is what happens as Moses Simon seemingly mis-hits a shot which trickles towards the goal, appears to hit a post, roll along the goal line and somehow goes in.  The goal is barely deserved, and Nantes only come anywhere near scoring again once more as Ignatius Ganago’s header is saved by Mvogo.   Unusually for the losing team, it is Nantes who make the late substitutions, and if it is an attempt to give the team and supporters a late fillip by increasing the amount of time added on it doesn’t work as time additionelle of just two minutes is announced.

The two minutes pass without further incident and the final whistle confirms Lorient’s win.  Paulene and I both agree that this has been a very good match and we have been impressed and a little surprised by Lorient’s slick forward play in particular.  But the whole afternoon has been wonderful, not just the football.  From the Arthurian themed, locally brewed organic beer to the mingling of home and away fans in such a fine, small but spacious stadium under warm blue skies it has been a joy to be here.  Full of happy thoughts we head for the club shop to buy that cuddly hake.

Vannes OC 1 Chambly-Oise 2

Ligue National 2 is the fourth tier of French league football; it consists of amateur clubs and the reserve teams of the clubs in Ligue 1 and 2 and is divided up into four regional groups each containing sixteen teams.  There are nevertheless many clubs at this level that have previously been in the two professional leagues, and both Vannes and Chambly fall into this category, with Chambly having had just a single season in Ligue 2 as recently as 2020; neither club has ever scaled the heights of Ligue 1 but Vannes were in Ligue 2 from 2008 to 2011 and reached the final of the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup) at the Stade de France in 2008, although they lost 0-4 to Bordeaux.

Vannes is a coastal town and former port, which in some ways might be said to be comparable to my hometown of Ipswich due to its physical geography and former dockside and having a history dating back well over a thousand years, although based on how busy it is today Vannes seems to be thriving a little more than Ipswich at the present time, but then France is in the EU and the French realise in the spirit of egalite and fraternite that taxation and public spending allow money to be spent for the greater good.

After a lazy afternoon in Vannes spent mostly sat at a pavement café, in the gardens beneath the town walls and by the old port which is now filled with yachts, my wife Paulene and I stroll across the road from the port to the guichets where we buy two tickets (8 euros each) for this evening’s match which kicks-off at six-thirty.  Entry to the Stade de la Rabine is just up the road and round the corner from the guichets and at the gate our tickets are checked, and the stubs torn off by two redoubtable looking middle-aged women.  Entry takes us directly into the under croft of the steel framed south stand; walking along beneath the upper tier it feels like we are in a lofty cloister.  The main stand is a plain concrete and steel structure typical of many French municipal stadiums but a little newer than most.

Getting into the feel of what is effectively the French equivalent of ‘non-league’ football, I have to have a beer. An un-identified blonde beer in a re-usable plastic cup adorned with the club crest costs just 2 euros. Paulene has a coffee and bottle of water which are a euro each, but first I must exchange my cash for the Jetons (tokens) that are the only means of paying for food and drink in the ground.  I am happy to see there is also a club shop where for just three euros I add another petit fanion (pennant) to the collection that hangs above the cistern in my upstairs toilet back home. I wander about a bit and snap a few photos and then we find our seats as the PA system plays some rather strange bland electro-pop music, as it has done since we first walked in.

The main stand eventually fills up with the usual collection of old blokes, actual and would-be wives and girlfriends of players, young boys in club tracksuits who probably play for the under 13s team, and other sundry supporters of the local team.  The stand to our left is completely empty; there is one lonely man in the stand to our right and the far side of the ground is a building site on which the concrete frame that has so far been erected could be compared to a sort of modern-day Stonehenge, but only if the light was very, very bad.  The teams process onto the pitch and line up in a single row before two banners proclaiming the name of league National 2.  Three-minutes late, at twenty-seven minutes to seven after a ‘ceremonial’ kick-off involving two older men in smart but casual clothing, Chambly Oise kick off, aiming towards the goal in front of the two-tiered stand occupied by the lone supporter.

Before three minutes have passed, Chambly win the games’ first corner.  A minute later and a cross from the left is diverted into the Vannes goal by the foot on the end of the outstretched leg of Chambly’s number 19, which he has dangled beyond the defender who is alongside him.  The goal catches me by surprise a bit, as it did that defender, and I clap, drawing a look of mild disapproval from the very tall, elderly man who is folded up on the seat next but one to me.  To be honest I had thought Chambly were Vannes because Chambly are wearing an all-white kit whilst Vannes are wearing all-black and I couldn’t imagine that any club’s first choice kit would be all-black; I had therefore assumed that they were the away team.   The French Wikipedia page on Vannes OC later tells me that Vannes OC did formerly play in black and white but changed to all-black a few seasons ago; personally, as someone who still can’t get used to seeing teams of referees, I think it was a bad decision.

The quality of the football so far is not high and the crowd is quiet, particularly the lone man behind the goal, but Chambly look the better team.  In the absence of anything more interesting I note that the Chambly players do not have their names on the back of their shirts, but the Vannes players do with the exception of number 33.  Also, number 9 for Vannes, whose name is Ebrard, has one leg of his shorts hanging down, but the other one rolled up.  Paulene and I speculate as to why this is.  Is it perhaps to remind him to kick the ball now and then with his weaker foot or, in the absence of a knot in his hankie, is it something more prosaic such as a reminder to put the cat out when he gets home.

In the eighteenth minute a cross from the right by Chambly’s number 8, a short, stocky and industrious player, is headed in unchallenged by the towering number 23.  The Vannes goalkeeper Pettiogenet (number 40) gets a hand or two to the ball but cannot prevent it from hitting the net.  The goal seems to further prove the point so far made that Chambly are the better team. But slowly Vannes are improving, as if they needed at least twenty minutes to warm up, and they win a couple of corners. Ebrard looks keen and almost threatens on a couple of occasions before, as the game is about to enter its second third, he dribbles into the penalty area and tumbles to the ground as a result of a probable trip.  Ebrard gets up and strikes the ball to the anonymous goalkeeper’s right and with his right foot, the one beneath the long leg of his shorts.  The goalkeeper gets a hand to the shot but cannot keep it out, merely pushing it into the corner of the net. 

A couple of minutes after the goal the eager Ebrard concedes a free-kick as he dives in a little too keenly on a Chambly defender.  The defender doesn’t seem too bothered but the goalkeeper comes running out of his goal to remonstrate with Ebrard as if he now harbours a grudge against him for having beaten him with that penalty kick.  Vannes are now up and running and pressing for an equaliser and Kimbembe and Nzuzi link up well down the right and Nzuzi’s low cross travels to the far side of the penalty area where Ebrard has the time and space to sweep the ball majestically into the top left-hand corner of the stand behind the goal.  His attempt was a bold one as the outcome showed.

The last ten minutes of the first half are notable for Paulene spotting that a lean-to projection from the side of the building opposite looks like it has two eyes and pouting mouth.  A minute of additional time is played and I go and purchase a tray of chips (2 euros) with mayonnaise with my remaining jetons.  I return to the stand to eat my chips whilst a pair of black-headed gulls swoop into the stand on the look out for any stray deep fried food that might come their way; I guard my chips jealously and give the gulls a discouraging glare.

The match resumes at twenty-four minutes to eight. In the box like building next door to the lean-to building that looks like a face, a man is watching the game, presumably free of charge, from an upstairs window.  A short while later the windows are shut and we assume he decided it was either getting too cold to have the window wide open or he just got bored.  The second half sees substitutions for Chambly first as number twenty-seven replaces number eleven, and then for Vannes with Mvogo replacing Duclovel.  In a departure from how I have previously seen substitutions made, a woman in ‘late middle-age’ wearing a Breton jumper holds up the electronic board displaying the numbers of the incoming and outgoing players.  Paulene and I assume she is the club secretary , but alongside the referee’s assistant, the coaches and the delegue principal (an overseeing official) in his rather crumpled looking blue suit, she complements an interesting tableau of touchline figures.

The second half witnesses the first concerted outbreak of support from the crowd but in the form of the treble voices of the under 13’s who chant “Allez les Noires” over and over again, until they get bored, which thankfully doesn’t take too long.  More substitutions happen and Nzuzi is replaced by another anonymous player, the mysterious number thirty-four whilst anonymous thirty-three is replaced by equally anonymous thirty-two.  In due course the final minutes approach and there is a discernible effort from Vannes to finally equalise.  The ninetieth minute sees Vannes win a corner and in what seems like a final push both legs of Ebrard’s shorts miraculously appear to be the same length as he surges forward.  But it seems like his last hurrah and having lost the ball he stands bent over with his hands on his knees, a spent force.  Five minutes of time additionelle are announced, but Vannes can’t do enough to score and the initial judgement from the first twenty minutes that Chambly are the better team holds good.

With the full-time whistle we exit the ground the way we came in and head back to our car, where we will learn we have to pay a stonking 9 euros 80.  If you come to Vannes for more than an hour or so try not to park at Republique.  It’s not been the greatest evening’s football in truth, but Vannes OC is a decent little club with an excellent stadium and lovely people selling the tickets, the food and the drink.  I sincerely hope they get back to Ligue National and possibly Ligue 2 soon. As the Under13’s told us “Allez les Noires”.

Ipswich Town 2 Barnsley 2

Barnsley FC, Wikipedia tells us, has spent more seasons in the second division than any other club. Just to prove the point I have seen Ipswich Town play Barnsley thirty times and but for one FA Cup tie all of those matches have been in the second division.  This does of course mean that Ipswich Town are also second division perennials.  Today’s fixture, therefore, is exceptional and indeed it is the first time that Ipswich and Barnsley have ever met as third division teams; what it is to live in interesting times.

In all other respects today is a normal, sunny, late summer Saturday as I make my way down through Gippeswyk Park, beneath the railway tracks and over the river to Portman Road, where, as ever, I buy a match programme (£3.50) in the modern cashless, but slightly slow manner.  Programme in hand I march on towards the Arbor House (formerly the Arboretum) where both doors are open wide; I step inside and turn towards the bar. “Gary, what the hell are you doing here?” I exclaim at the unexpected sight of my friend and former work colleague, Gary stood at the bar. “I’m buying you a drink, what would you like?” is Gary’s very quick and very welcome response.  I have a pint of something for which the pump clip says “Suffolk Punch” and Gary has a pint of some lager or other, but not one of the industrial brands. We retire to the garden where Mick is already sat with a pint of what looks like Suffolk Pride.  Gary and Mick have met before but introduce themselves to one another nonetheless; it really shouldn’t but it feels to me a bit like when your wife meets a former girlfriend. 

The pub garden is alive with drinkers wearing the blue shirts of Ipswich Town, far more so than usual.  Cheerily, we talk of funerals because Gary has been to a few lately and Mick works for an undertaker. Gary tells the story of two people he knows who were concerned that they might not get a seat at a cremation which was likely to be ‘popular’ (perhaps well-attended would be a better choice of words), and so sat through the previous cremation too, just to be sure.  With our glasses drained, a bloke at the next table chain smoking and blokes at the table beyond talking far louder than is necessary, we depart a little earlier than usual for Portman Road.

Bidding farewell to Gary and Mick in Sir Alf Ramsey Way, because their season tickets are in what used to be the Pioneer stand, I carry on to the Constantine Road entrance where a man in a suit compliments me on my ‘Allez les bleus’ T-shirt as he checks my ticket. “Wouldn’t it be great if we all supported Town in French” I say to him a bit weirdly, although he seems to accept the idea.  I enter the stadium, taking the rare opportunity to use turnstile 61, which today is operated by a young woman who is very possibly the nicest looking turnstile operator I have ever seen at Portman Road.  I arrive at my seat in time to see the teams walk on to the pitch and hear them announced by former Suffolk Radio presenter Stephen Foster, who once again looks a bit like a best man, microphone in hand in his grey suit.  My attention is briefly snagged when I think I hear that the Barnsley number ten is called George Benson, but checking the handily placed scoreboard I sadly see that he’s actually called Josh Benson, but the idea was good while it lasted.  Naturally, ever-present Phil who never misses a game is already here with this son Elwood and so are Pat from Clacton and Fiona as well as the man who I think is from Stowmarket; I can see Ray and his son Michael and his son Harrison down at the front of the stand.

With knees taken and applauded Barnsley get first go with the ball as, wearing their traditional kit of red shirts, white shirts and red socks they aim the ball towards the goal at the Sir Bobby Robson Stand end. Town of course wear their traditional blue shirts and white shorts and as the teams line up it looks like a re-enactment of my childhood Continental Club Edition Subbuteo set, albeit without the strange poses of the plastic players.  Despite a high level of background noise, it takes just one minute and twenty seconds for the visiting Barnsleyites to deliver a chant of “Is this is a library?”.   Up in the Cobbold Stand there are several well filled red shirts in the away section and a bald-headed, middle-aged bloke in what looks like full kit, makes me think of Brian Glover’s Mr Sugden the PE teacher in Ken Loach’s classic film ‘Kes’.

Beside me today is a man in a bright orange hi-viz jacket emblazoned with the name of Veolia, the French waste disposal company. “Come on mate” he shouts, possibly to Freddie Ladapo as Conor Chaplin shapes up to thread a through ball beyond the enormous Barnsley defenders. “Come on, early pressure” continues my neighbour, “Pass it around, pass it around”.  He’s living every moment of his own live commentary.  A radio commentator might say that Town have started ‘on the front foot’ and by way of proof the bloke behind me announces that “ the pressure is unreal” .  The first two shots on goal however are by Barnsley players. There is a lot of jeering from the Barnsley fans and it sounds as if someone may be being ejected from the ground, around me people stand up tall and peer to their right to see what’s happening, they remind me of meerkats.

It’s the tenth minute and people rise and applaud as one in memory of a baby who has died.  On the pitch the game is interrupted by a foul and then carries on.  Neither side is exactly peppering the opposition goal with shots and the match is tense and physical; it’s engrossing but not exciting. Barnsley make an early substitution due to injury, reducing the aggregate of the numbers on their shirts by three as number 22 replaces number 25.

It’s the eighteenth minute and Wes Burns and Liam Kitching race for the ball, the enormous Kitching sticks out an arm to impede Burns and holds his shirt, Burns holds Kitching’s shirt and the linesman flags for a free-kick to Barnsley.  It’s a biased decision favouring the defender who had been first to foul, it would have been better to have made no decision at all.  “Pressure” shouts the bloke from Veolia out of the blue. Barnsley substitute, and former occasional Town player James Norwood can be seen trotting from the bench to the dressing room. “He’s injured already” says the bloke behind me. “Going for a Nando’s” says the bloke next to him.  “Come on Town, we haven’t even got out of…” bawls the bloke beside me trailing off, seemingly unable to remember what it is we haven’t even got out of.  If this was going to be a driving analogy I would guess “first gear” is what we haven’t got out of, but if this was going to be an analogy about going to bed it might be “our trousers”; admittedly however this would be an unusual analogy .

It’s the twenty seventh minute and Wes Burns is victim of over physical defending and Town have a free-kick about 20 metres from goal. Conor Chaplin steps up to send a sublime shot over the defensive wall and into the top corner of the Barnsley goal.  It’s a marvellous, beautiful goal and Town are winning. “They’ve gotta come out now” says the bloke behind me, suggesting that he believes some of the Barnsley players will now reveal that they enjoy the company of other men.

Six minutes later and following a series of Barnsley free-kicks the ball is crossed to the far post where Jack Aitchison heads it across goal and inside the far post to provide an unexpected equaliser. “It’s all gone quiet over there” chant the Barnsley fans conveniently forgetting that they are in a library, so it would be quiet wouldn’t it?  They compound their error by chanting “You’re not singing anymore” when apparently, according to their earlier chants we weren’t singing anyway.  Like ‘leave’ voters who don’t want to queue to have their passports stamped when only going ‘next door’ to Holland or France they seem to want their cake and to eat it too.

Leif Davis and Sam Morsy have shots blocked and Davis heads past the post as half-time looms.  When three minutes of added on time are announced, Barnsley’s number two Jordan Williams is sprawling on the grass. “Ha-ha” calls a Nelson Munce-like voice from somewhere behind me.   It’s been a good half of football but not a thrilling one if one inexplicably forgets Chaplin’s goal,  so the Nelson Munce soundalike has gained a higher profile in my mind than he probably deserves.

Half-time is the usual round of talking to Ray and Harrison and Michael and eating a Nature Valley Honey and Oats Crunchy bar.  Ray asks what I know about solar panels, and I tell him I have them on my roof because my mother in-law died. 

The game re-starts at two minutes past four and Christian Walton is soon making a fine save, diving to his right to ensure a decent passing and running move by Barnsley does not end with a goal.  “Can you hear the Ipswich sing? I can’t hear a fookin’ thing” chant the Barnsley fans in their South Yorkshire dialect. “Your support is fookin’ shit” they continue before rounding off their medley with a rendition of “Top o’ the league, your ‘avin’ a laff”.   It’s the fifty -third minute and Freddie Ladapo has an attempt cleared off the line. “Get up ya fairy” calls the man from Veolia at Luca Connell as the Barnsley player writhes about in the centre circle before being attended to by a physio. Today’s attendance is announced as being 25,001 with 613 being Tykes and Colliers from Barnsley.  On the Clacton supporters bus the winner of the guess the crowd competition is just two out, guessing 24,499, although misleadingly the guess of 25,050 gets more of the actual digits correct and therefore almost looks closer.

The game is nearly two-thirds over and Barnsley’s Callum Styles is booked for a cynical block on Wes Burns.  Barnsley win a corner. “I’m getting worried you know” admits Pat from Clacton beginning to lose her faith that Town will win this match.  “Come on Town, defend” shouts the bloke beside me giving helpful advice as the corner kick is taken.  The corner is defended as suggested and when play next stops Barnsley make another substitution, James Norwood replacing Jack Aitchison who walks off so slowly and gingerly that he looks like he might have suffered a sudden attack of diarrhoea.

The sixty-sixth minute and the Barnsley supporters think they’ve scored as the ball rattles into the side netting in front of them at the end of another decent move.  Relief and schadenfreude combine to transform the mood of Town fans in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand who are able to jeer at the stupidity of their northern neighbours.   With the game into its final quarter Town introduce mass substitutions. Stephen Foster announces that there will be three, but only tells us about Kayden Jackson replacing Freddie Ladapo and Marcus Harness replacing Tyreece John -Jules.  The forgotten substitution sees Kane Vincent-Young appear in place of Leif Davis.  As happened at Shrewsbury last week, the change quickly produces results and Wes Burns runs down the right and into the box before producing a low cross which Sam Morsy side-foots into the net.  Town lead, and are on top to the extent that three minutes later Marcus Harness scores a third, only for alleged referee Steve Martin to disallow it for reasons unknown.  Unlike his American namesake, this Steve Martin seems to be the man with no brain rather than ‘The man with two brains’ and should in future be known by the same name as Steve Martin’s dog in his 1979 film ‘The Jerk’, alternativley ‘The Jerk’ would do.

As if having an idiot for a referee is not bad enough Town soon suffer further by failing to defend a corner and allowing Barnsley’s Callum Styles, a man who according to the app on my phone is shorter than Conor Chaplin ( I think the app must be wrong) , a free header which he places just inside the far post.  If only the man from Veolia had shouted “Come on Town, defend”.  As I remark to Fiona “ I think that is what is called giving him too much time and space”.

Despite the disappointment of gifting Barnsley another equaliser Town press on for another winning goal and dominate the remaining fifteen minutes, reducing Barnsley to desperate clearances rather than considered passes out of defence.   Wolfe is booked for fouling Sam Morsy and a Wes Burns shot is pushed away for a corner by the outstretched arm of the Barnsley goalkeeper Brad Collins, who I like to think was named after Brad in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sone Aluko replaces Conor Chaplin with five minutes of normal time left.  James Norwood is booked for diving and happily does nothing to suggest it was a mistake to let him go. Anderson of Barnsley is booked for kicking the ball away when a free-kick is awarded; it’s a display of bad sportsmanship and unneccessary nastiness which seems common to this team of mostly mardy millennials.  Fiona leaves early to get away for a family barbecue, despite the fire risk due to the drought, and a ridiculous eight minutes of time added on are announced.  Town win a corner from which George Edmundson heads against a post; Kane Vincent-Young sends a header towards goal, but it is kept out with a flying save; Aluko and Harness both have shots blocked.

 It’s almost five o’clock when The Jerk ends the game and walks off to the boos of the crowd, including mine.  We now expect Town to win, and only the referee and some uncharacteristically forgetful defending have prevented that today, but that’s not so unusual, and at least we didn’t lose. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose as it might say on a future T-shirt when we all start supporting Town in French.

Ipswich Town 0 Newport County 1

The first and second rounds of the Football League Cup are always an early season treat, a chance to play an interesting ‘lower league’ club and maybe visit a ground never visited before, in fact that was almost guaranteed back in the days of two-legged ties.  Added to that, summer isn’t over (if it has ever started) and a hot and sticky road trip precedes a balmy evening of lengthening shadows beneath a maturing, setting sun. Early season evening games are blissful, beautiful occasions and I fondly remember visits to Torquay, Exeter, Scunthorpe, Darlington, Brentford, Stockport, Bolton and Wigan.   Sadly, Ipswich Town are now one of those lower league teams, and a decade or more of abject failure has transformed cup ties from nights of wonder and joy into painful experiences to be endured like a trip to the dentist or having your car MoT’d.

Tonight, our opponents are ‘little Newport County’, a phoenix club resurrected from the one that went bust in 1988, following relegation from the fourth division.  I recall seeing the original County play out a magnificently awful goalless draw at Layer Road, Colchester in that fabulously terrible relegation season, but I also recall their glorious 2-3 European Cup Winners Cup quarter final defeat to Carl Zeiss Jena at the same time as Town were cruising past St Etienne on our way to winning the UEFA Cup.  Again, like on Saturday when Morecambe played their first ever third division game at Portman Road sixty years after Town played our first ever top division game, it is somehow fitting that Newport and Town should meet forty years after both clubs’ finest moments in European competition. I visited Newport’s old Somerton Park ground back in 1988 and could only think how their opponents from the German Democratic Republic must have been glad to get back behind the ’iron curtain’, doubtless with renewed faith that Communism was far superior to Capitalism and produced much better football stadiums, which of course it is and did, if you do it right.  Communism is a bit like sex, a great idea but best only conducted between consenting adults.

Shamefully arriving by car and not public transport because of continuing Covid induced paranoia, I park-up in West End Road car park at a little after 7 pm; the tariff is £1.00 until 8.00pm, after which it is free.  Stepping from my trusty, air-conditioned Citroen C3 the warmth of the evening air hits me unexpectedly and stirs pleasant memories of going to night matches in more exotic locations such as Beziers, Nice, Marseille and Montpellier whilst on holiday in the south of France.  Musing that the stadium catering at Portman Road probably doesn’t serve espresso coffee or cheese and ham baguettes, I stroll to the ground where there are queues at the guichets (look it up). I buy a programme (£2.50) from a booth in which the gently smiling young female programme seller seems rather heavily made-up for the occasion, but then it’s nice that she’s made the effort.  Drinking in the pre-match ambience I pass by the back of the Sir Bobby Robson stand and enter Portman Road, which is strangely quiet.  I realise later that this is because the only people occupying the Cobbold Stand tonight are the 131 from Newport, many of whom will have travelled on the six-wheeled charabanc of Watt’s Coaches, which idles by the Portman Road bus stop; I ask one of the drivers how long the journey took; “Five and a half hours” he tells me stretching out his vowel sounds with his rich, lilting and somewhat tired sounding South Walean accent, which oozes Rarebit and Eisteddfods.

Returning to Sir Alf Ramsey Way the queues for turnstiles 43 to 47 are lengthening and beginning to snake, so I head for turnstile 49 where there’s hardly anyone ahead of me at all.  Inside the ground a line of Heras fencing separates the fanzone from those of us who have passed through the turnstiles. The back of the stand is a noisy place as a disco inside a shipping container seems to be operating from a corner of the fanzone, predictably no one is dancing, and I wonder what the point of it is.   Fearing that my hearing is being damaged I head for my seat which tonight is in Block H, so lettered I will discover because at the end of the match it’s difficult to get out of, like the prisoner cell block.

As I stand and flick through my programme, kick-off comes ever closer and the PA system which successfully scrambles any spoken word delivers a medley of tunes associated with the Town.  I enjoy the anthemic Edward Ebenezer Jeremiah Brown from the 1970’s, but cringe at the dire Singin’ the Blues of the George Burley era, which sounds as if it is performed by Vic Reeves and Suzi Quattro, and the surreal and corny Sweet Caroline.  My only pleasure is from a childish giggle provoked by the name of a Newport substitute, Evan Ovendale. 

Finally, my torture by music is ended when the teams come onto the pitch, and I’m pleased to report are warmly applauded as they ‘take the knee’.  The match kicks off; Newport pointing in the direction of the Sir Bobby Robson stand in their traditional amber shirts and black shorts and getting first go with the ball.  Barely two minutes pass and an Armando Dobra shot strikes Newport’s right hand goal post. Within a further two minutes Newport lead.  One of Town’s many debutants, Sone Aluko needlessly concedes a free kick, from which a low cross is diverted into the net via the heel of Timmy Abraham, who rather wonderfully sounds like he should be, and indeed he is, the little brother of the Chelsea player, Tammy Abraham.

At least we probably still have 90 minutes to score a couple of goals of our own. But inevitably, given Town’s recent record in cup competitions, I have a nagging sensation that some writing is already being daubed on a wall somewhere.  Meanwhile, Armando Dobra has a shot saved and the oddly named Macauley Bonne heads over the Newport cross bar.   When Newport are awarded the game’s first corner, the Sir Bobby Robson stand chant “Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you” to the taker, displaying a boastfulness of their own ignorance that is fitting in a town that voted for Brexit.

Town may be losing, but the game is nevertheless an entertaining one and despite the mostly empty stands the spectacle is enhanced by the fading daylight. With 21 minutes gone Sone Aluko claims the glory as the first player to be booked by the strangely competent referee Mr Neil Hair, or Herr Hair as he would be known if this were the Bundesliga.  Quite suddenly at about ten past eight I notice that all sunlight has gone and the ground is totally in the shade of whatever the Pioneer stand is now called.  The oddly named Macauley Bonne strikes the outside of Newport’s left-hand post with a shot and some childish banter ensues between him and the Newport goalkeeper Nick Townsend, with Bonne clutching his stomach to indicate that that Townsend is not merely big-boned; you can take the boy out of Chantry High School but you can’t …etcetera.

Five minutes of the half remain, and Town produce a delightful passing move, sending the ball from Luke Woolfenden to Idris El-Mizouni (whose father incidentally drank a post-match coffee with me when AS Meudon played St Ouen L’Aumone in the Coupe de France in 2018) to Sone Aluko to Armando Dobra, whose cross is headed over by the oddly named Macauley Bonne.  There is still time for Newport’s short and dumpy, but wonderfully named and impressively numbered (he’s No 56) Aneurin Livermore to be booked, for Idris El-Mizouni to have a free kick saved, and for him to provide a deliciously whipped-in cross for the oddly named Macauley Bonne to head over the bar yet again.

Half-time brings relief from the claustrophobia of the oldest part of the stadium, as those around me leave to get refreshment; people genuinely were smaller in the 1950’s when the old West Stand was built, possibly because there was no stadium catering back then.  Tonight, I am seemingly surrounded by youths in their late teens and early twenties who are all about 2metres tall.  Two of them return with trays of chips and the game begins again.

My seat is closer to “Churchman’s” than the Bobby Robson Stand and perhaps that’s why I notice for the first time this evening that Tomas Holy is a vision in cerise, he’s quite a sight.  Five minutes pass and the oddly named Macauley Bonne heads a looping cross into the goal, the giants all around me stand as one, but I had already spotted the offside flag.  “You fat bastard” chant the North Standers, presumably at goalkeeper Townsend and not to the oddly named Macauley Bonne.

Tonight’s attendance of 6,154 is announced and a good proportion of that number applaud themselves like performing seals do after catching a fish thrown at them from a bucket.  Town’s Scott Fraser replaces Sone Aluko who looks like he knows he’s had a poor game.  “He’s weird in ‘e? He’s got funny little legs in ’e?” I hear a voice behind me say.  I think the voice is talking about Newport’s left-back Aaron Lewis, who indeed does have funny little legs; he also has hair like Grayson Perry; he’s not a bad footballer mind, and I like to think he might also be able to knock up some decent ceramics or tapestries.

Over an hour of the match has passed and a fine shot from Armando Dobra brings an equally fine flying save from the fat bastard in the Newport goal; James Norwood and Kayden Jackson replace Louie Barry and the oddly named Macauley Bonne.  Newport mount a rare attack down the right and Town’s Corrie Ndaba, whose first name reminds me of the episode in series nine of The Simpsons in which Lisa becomes addicted to ringing the ‘Corey hotline’, spectacularly and miraculously slices the ball into the arms of Tomas Holy who is stood behind him.

With the match in the final twenty minutes Newport players twice clear the ball off their own goal line in the space of a few seconds and James Norwood heads a decent cross from Bailey Clements over the bar in a manner which I had thought was the preserve of the oddly named Macauley Bonne.  Just a short while later Norwood begins to limp and then leaves the field of play to be replaced by no one at all because we’ve used all our substitutes.  The bloke next to me doesn’t notice for a further few minutes that we are down to ten men and when he does, he thinks we’ve had someone sent off; “What happened?” he asks; and I thought I was guilty of not paying attention.

Newport’s shaven headed forty-two-year-old, Kevin Ellison is substituted and hobbles off, clearly attempting to eke out the remaining time in a way which doesn’t involve football being played. “Get off you old git” I bawl at him despite being almost twenty years his senior. I’m not sure what came over me, although these West Standers seem rather dull and need livening up.  Unfortunately, Ellison and his team win the day with their time-wasting ways and despite five minutes of added on time Ipswich fail to score, and so once again leave the League Cup at the earliest opportunity, leaving Newport County and the likes of Forest Green Rovers, Barrow and Oldham Athletic to seek the sort of glory we can only dream of.

Despite the result it’s been an enjoyable match, with some fine performances from young players, particularly Bailey Clements, Idris El-Mizouni and Cameron Humphreys. As I stand helplessly waiting to get out of the slowly clearing stand, I applaud Newport and their intrepid supporters and reassure myself by believing that although the score reads as another Cup defeat I have simply witnessed the birth pangs of a Grand Projet that will one day see us reach the next round.