Wigan Athletic 0 Ipswich Town 0

I first travelled away to see Wigan Athletic on 22nd September 1992.  The match was the first leg of a League Cup  tie  and Ipswich Town were newly promoted to what had suddenly become the Premier League,  whilst Wigan were in Division Three where they are once again.  I think I travelled by car with a handful of fellow supporters and after a pre-match drink in a pub which I remember for its faux beams and cheap beer I joined 2,683 others to witness Gavin Johnson and an own goal  prevent defeat  on the night and set up a 6-2 aggregate victory a fortnight later.  That game was at Springfield Park, a fabulous old ground that had a curved grass bank behind one goal.  It was a wet evening so we paid extra to sit in the dry of the main stand.   Wigan Athletic wore the name of tinned-food purveyors, Heinz on their shirts.

Today there is no thrill of discovering an away ground for the first time, there isn’t even the thrill of a four or five hour journey along the congested motorways of England cooped up with three or four other blokes in a modestly priced, family-sized saloon car. Today,  I shall once again have to follow the game on the wireless courtesy of BBC Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley and his current away-day sidekick, former FA Youth Cup winner Stuart Ainsley.   Football always dominates Saturdays even if it’s just a matter of listening to it on the radio, but in a vain effort to get more from life I have spent the morning tidying my garden alongside my wife Paulene.  We are serenaded by the croaking of frogs enjoying a writhing orgy of mating in the garden pond. I tried to give them all names, I got as far as Andre and Teddy, but there were too many of them and I couldn’t always be sure which ones were the girls and which ones were the boys.   After a couple of hours of weeding and digging my reward is a pre-match ‘pint’ (500ml) of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (£13.95 for a case of eight direct from the brewer) whilst Paulene drinks gin and soda water. We sit at a metal garden table trying to spot patches of clear blue sky amongst the mass and swirl of the dull, grey cloud above; it reminds me of watching Ipswich Town.  We soon feel cold and finish our drinks indoors.

Three o’clock arrives earlier than I had anticipated and I miss kick-off as I fiddle with the dial on my retro—style Bush radio, fine tuning it to ensure optimum enjoyment of BBC Radio Suffolk.   Missing the kick-off is perhaps also a symptom of a creeping malaise that advances at the same pace as Town’s promotion hopes recede. Ten minutes of the match have passed. “Not a lot of quality at the moment, on the pitch” says Stuart suggesting perhaps that there may be quality elsewhere; if only we knew where.  “Eleven on the clock and still waiting for the first goal of the afternoon” adds Brenner glumly, although along the A14 and up the A1 Peterborough are already two goals up against Accrington.

“Wigan trying to play football from deep”, ………ball along the deck…….. not seeing a lot of quality are we? ” says Brenner lifting words from virtually every other commentary he’s done this season. The fourteenth minute and there is some interest, “I think the referee is potentially going to dish out a card” says Brenner a little breathlessly.  “ A right booking in my opinion” says Stuart struggling to find the correct words to express what he means.  The name of Wigan’s Thelo Aasgard is written down in referee James Bell’s notebook and the yellow card is probably not so much “dished out” as just held aloft by the referee.   Aasgard becomes a favourite of Brenner as the game proceeds and he will later refer to him as “the 19 year-old Norwegian”; “…looks like a player who could hurt Ipswich Town” continues Brenner, although this isn’t necessarily a guarantee of future footballing greatness.

“If you’re joining us this afternoon after nineteen minutes, you ain’t missed a great deal” says Brenner sounding all chummy and clearly anticipating that malaise I mentioned earlier that makes supporters miss the start of games through sheer disinterest.  Brenner continues describing a passage of play but mysteriously adding the word “goalless” mid-sentence.  It’s as if the absence of goals is playing on his mind, they’re what he lives for, goals are the oxygen of his commentary.   Diverting his attention away from goals Brenner perhaps indulges in a little word play,   “Tilt on the stretch” he says as the Wigan defender whose surname is a verb stretches for the ball.  I look forward to hearing “Tilt on the turn”, “Tilt at full tilt” and “Tilt leaning in” but they never come and I can’t help feeling  Brenner has missed an open goal.

Brenner and Stuart generously begin to look for excuses for the terrible game they are watching. “The pitch looks like it might have a bobble in it” says Stuart; pity it wasn’t  a crevasse or open cast mine I think to myself.  “Not quite been at the races” says Stuart of the poorly performing Gwion Edwards, practicing his football-speak.  Will Keane almost scores for Wigan. “Fantastic defending, Toto Nsiala has kept the score at nil-nil” says Brenner, trying to get as excited about a goal not being scored as he would about one being scored.

Town win a corner; little Alan Judge takes it; Brenner refers to him as “The Irishman”, making him sound like a character in a spy novel.  A third of the game has been played and Town win another corner; “Dozzell just pulls his shorts down slightly as he takes this one” says Brenner unintentionally explaining perhaps why the ball fails to beat the first defender.  Another passage of play ensues with Brenner naming each recipient of the ball in turn but then inserting “nil-nil” mid-sentence.   Town win a free-kick wide on the left. “Let’s get it in an area where the big boys at the back can attack it” says Stuart making the game sound like a playground free for all.  Stuart praises Andre Dozzell for winning the free-kick; “He done well” says Stuart, drawing attention to both the growing culture of inclusivity that now prevails at the BBC and the death of received English.

“Stretching to clear is Tilt” says Brenner smiling audibly. “Still not a great deal to report” he continues. “There’s not a plan” adds Stuart.  “As the sun comes out in Greater Manchester” says Brenner in the absence of anything more interesting happening; “Ball along the floor” he continues, innovatively not using the word ‘deck’, when he actually means ‘ground’.  “One minute of added time” continues Brenner; “I’m fairly happy about that” he adds laughing with Stuart; not it seems because he’s busting to go to the toilet,  but rather because the match has been so dire.  I like the idea however that he is desperate for a wee having had the proverbial pre-match skin-full; he might enjoy the match more if he had.

I catch part of Stuart’s half-time summing up before I head to the kitchen to put the kettle on. “Really tough to watch” is Stuart’s synopsis. “I hope Paul Cook hasn’t sent them out to play like that” he muses. Stuart goes on to tell us how he feels sorry for Freddie Sears who is being made to play out of position.  At times like this it seems that all football managers are idiots who don’t know what they are doing.   The broadcast returns to Graham in the studio, “Phew….that was hard going” says the anchorman.  I take solace in a cup of green tea and two ginger Christmas Tree biscuits from a job lot acquired at a knock down price because its nearly Easter.

The second half begins and Brenner tells us that Town are playing from right to left in their “burgundy and petrol blue kit”, it’s a beautiful way to describe dark red and dark blue, worthy of the Dulux colour chart and conjuring images of limpid, full-bodied wines and Molotov cocktails.  Luke Woolfenden we learn, has replaced Kane Vincent-Young for whom this was only his second match back in the team after a long absence due to injury.  “May be they’re just being cautious; let’s be positive” says Stuart fearing the worst.  It will later transpire that Kane now has a hamstring injury.

“Good pressure this from Wigan, early doors in the second half” says Brenner airing his favourite football-speak phrase in all the world.  It becomes apparent that Wigan have improved with their half-time tea but Ipswich haven’t. “It’s just the basics of football Ipswich are struggling with at the moment” says Stuart describing how straight from kick-off Town aimlessly lumped the ball forward.  It’s an illuminating comment from Stuart, but I would quibble with his reducing the importance of the basics by describing them as “ just the basics”. 

The commentary and thereby the game, trundles along.  “Dozzell along the floor” says Brenner telling us what we knew, that Andre Dozzell doesn’t have wings, before going onto to trot out some more old favourites.  “Paul Cook, gloves and beanie hat on, just down below us”.  “Always going to be an easy one for the big Czech to catch”. “Edwards wafts his right leg at the ball”.  “So, so disappointing from Ipswich Town”.  Stuart meanwhile is strongly advocating that Town should be  “ getting a foot on the ball”, from which I think he means we should simply be passing it to one another, not standing about like the Suffolk Punch on the club badge.

 “ Big chance missed by Wigan” says Brenner as Funso Ojo skips past Luke Chambers but fails to get the ball past the combined efforts of Toto Nsiala and Tomas Holy.  I notice from the commentary that Wigan have a player called Lee Evans and I ponder how good it would be to have an Eric Morecambe  at left-back or Stan Laurel up front.  I emerge from my reverie to hear Brenner say “Flat, disappointing” he is no doubt describing Town’s performance again, but I surmise that if disgraced former sky  TV presenter Richard Keys or Canal Plus hack Pierre Menes had said those words they would probably be referring to a female footballer’s chest.

“Here come Wigan on the prowl” says Brenner, making them sound like a team of perverts; “The burgundy shirts streaming back”.  Kayden Jackson and Josh Harrop replace Freddie Sears and little Alan Judge.  “A nice easy catch for Jones the goalkeeper” says Brenner, making me think of Ivor the Engine and Jones the steam.  Wigan threaten to break away but Luke Woolfenden trips Thelo  Aasgaard and is booked.  “It’s a good foul from Woolfenden” says Stuart revealing a weak grasp of morality which he had until now kept well hidden.  “Not really a game that deserves a goal” adds Brenner a short while later, making his own contribution to the philosophical theme that is developing.

Armando Dobra replaces Gwion Edwards. “Can he be the creative spark that turns one point into three?” asks Brenner providing his own creative spark to the commentary and inspiring thoughts of alchemy, magic and the occult, with me if no one else.   “He’s small, he’s diminutive. He’s got good little feet” adds Stuart, introducing tautology and podiatry into the already heady mix.  “It feels like a defeat watching this” says Brenner, bursting the balloon of hope and banishing the dream in a puff of smoke.

The game enters the final four minutes of normal time.  Luke Chambers is booked by Mr Bell for a petulant foul. “Frustration” opines Brenner.  “He’s had 86 minutes to show his frustration in other ways” responds Stuart poignantly; it’s a retort that’s almost worthy of applause; “Pretty good” I say to myself in the style of Larry David in ‘Curb your enthusiasm’.

“Are you finding it hard to stay awake Stuart?” asks Brenner injecting an element of levity into proceedings. Suddenly however, Brenner’s voice takes on a sense of urgency and excitement “Norwood heads the ball into the box…”, but that’s as exciting as it gets.  “Been a while since Town scored a late decisive goal” says Brenner with a hint of resignation. “A boring afternoon it has to be said” and Brenner says it, because he has to.

Perhaps feeling insulted by the poor spectacle that the two teams have produced, the fourth official declares that there will be six minutes of added on time;  I feel like I’ve been transported through time and back to school where I have been put in detention.  Nothing of any note happens in the additional six minutes of time added on for inept play and the final whistle brings nothing but relief.   “No plan, really difficult to watch” is all of Stuart’s summary that I need to hear. I switch of the Bush radio and cast all thoughts of Ipswich Town from my mind, although tomorrow I shall wear my T-shirt which bears the words “FC IT…where’s the pub?”  To add insult to injury the pubs are of course all shut.

Colchester United 1 Aston Villa 2

I hadn’t intended to go to this match; well I thought about it but just didn’t get around to buying a ticket. It’s what happens at the start of the season. I’m still in summer mode, it seems way too early for football, but it creeps up on you and all of a sudden the match is here and I’m sat at home ticketless.
Come the day of the match however, the bloke I sit next to at work, let’s call him Oliver, which coincidentally is his name, asks if I’d like his ticket because he has committed himself to watching Framlingham Town’s FA Cup extra-preliminary round replay against Wadham Lodge so can’t make it. Severe, heavy rain is forecast, the wind is in the north and the seat is in the south stand. Armed with this valuable potentially life-saving knowledge I say “Yes, I’ll take that ticket off your hands”.
I didn’t get home from work until just before six o’clock tonight because of heavy traffic and the fact that the A12 is partly flooded near Ardleigh. So rather than linger over dinner with a fine wine I gulp it down and am out again in time to catch the 18:46 train to Colchester. The rain is hurling down as I walk to the railway station, as it has been for the past couple of hours or more. Tonight trying to stay dry will be a challenge, one I am meeting by means of an umbrella, long navy blue raincoat, which my father bought in about 1954 and a pair of Wellington boots (green).36301663442_fac2cda0d1_o Proud to be different. A tall man walking towards me appears to be wearing spats but as he gets close I see he is wearing black and cream trainers; they won’t keep his feet dry like my wellies will.
From Colchester station it’s a short walk to the bus stop35634451744_9e9bf25d93_o to take me to the Weston Homes Out in the Middle of Nowhere Stadium, the bit of Colchester the Romans just couldn’t be arsed to occupy. There’s no time to stop for a pint of Adnam’s Oyster Stout in the Bricklayers Arms tonight as the train is late and I just want to get in the stadium and out of the rain as quickly as possible. I step onto the bus and fumble for change, but the driver says that it’s free tonight, which is just as well because the top deck is already full so I will have to sit downstairs. A woman in her sixties politely budges-up and thanking her I settle down in a seat at the foot of the stairs. This bus is sweltering; it has warm air blowing down from vents in the roof and nearly everyone is sat in steaming wet coats. Most of the passengers are men, several are in their seventies or older. It’s not long before the bus is officially declared full, the doors sweep closed and it pulls away. The roar of the engine fills the ‘saloon’ and the swish of the rain and splash of the puddles in the gutter create an exciting cacophony of sound; men have to shout to be heard above the noise of this speeding, softly lit, mobile tin sauna. “With this team we should win about 3-0 most weeks” expounds an obese Villa fan of Asian descent. Less confidently he adds that Steve Bruce “..is a good manager, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes he could be better”. He concludes that if Villa aren’t promoted at the end of the season Bruce will be sacked.
Arriving at “Layer Road” we politely pile out of the bus, many of us thanking the driver for his labour. It is gloomy and wet and people queue unhappily for programmes and draw tickets. The cameras of Sky TV are here tonight to broadcast the match live and at35661501913_6f1d94c088_o the corner of the stadium is a corral of trucks and broadcasting paraphernalia which looks like a traveller site; I half expect to see a couple of straggly-haired lurchers running about and some half-dressed, snotty-faced kids playing in the puddles. Sky TV have deigned to visit “Layer Road” tonight because this is a League Cup match with the prospect of plucky little fourth division Colchester knocking out famous, big city, and until recently Premier League club Aston Villa. Whilst I have called it a League Cup match it is in fact known by the name of its sponsor, a company I have never heard of , something like Caramac or Caribou. Whatever the cup is now called the sponsor is probably something to do with alcohol or on-line betting because modern football is classy like that.
I buy a programme (£3) and join the queue to get in the stadium; only one turnstile is open at the south end of the ground although not long after I join the queue, two more open. It is still raining of course and a gust of wind blows my umbrella inside out. “He-he it’s not doing much like that” blurts a drowned rat of a youth in front of me in the queue who looks like an extra from Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver!. I want to tell him that even inside out it’s a lot more effective than his non-existent umbrella, which is why he looks like he has just stepped out of Albert dock and will probably die next week of pneumonia in depressing Dickensian circumstances. I, meanwhile will of course live on to enjoy watching Colchester United on many a wet night to come as he moulders in a damp pauper’s grave.
At length I get to the turnstile where I hand my slightly soggy and bedraggled ticket36469586505_8b71af2da1_o to a steward who passes it across the sensor on the automatic turnstile, which rather defeats the object of automatic turnstiles, but hey-ho. Safe and dry In the strip-lit cosiness of the breeze-block concourse beneath the stand I seek re-invigoration with a pounds-worth of Tetley tea and then head for my seat.
Once the adverts on the telly are over the game begins to a spectacular backdrop of floodlit, teeming rain.35661459713_ae68344f0a_o Wow. Colchester are quick and play freely, but so do Aston Villa; this is good, an open game. Sadly, unluckily and possibly unfairly for the U’s, they trail quite soon when their goalkeeper spills the greasy ball, or has it kicked from his grasp and a Villain rolls it accurately beyond those around him into the net. The goal scorer’s name is announced as what sounds, perhaps because of the hiss and bubble of rain on standing water, like Squat Hogan. I think his name may be Scott, but he is a bit squat being slightly bandy and having the disfigured, pumped-up torso of a spinach filled Popeye. But soon afterwards Colchester are awarded a penalty, only to have it saved athletically by the Villa goalkeeper. It’s not even eight o’clock yet.
The referee is not popular with the home supporters due to that dodgy goal and for a series of free-kicks he awards to the Villains who seem quite unable to stay upright as if they have some unpleasant infection of the inner ear. The referee is called John Brooks a name he shares with my dead grandfather who, nice as he was, would probably have made a terrible football referee, so a bit like this bloke, who along with his assistants sports a shirt the colour of palest primrose. At about five past eight the U’s trail further as the tubby, balding linesman on the main stand side seems to react slowly to a probable offside and Col U’s number six Frankie Kent slides across the wet grass on his bum to clear the ball, only to deflect it into his own goal. A stroke of bad luck combined perhaps with misadventure and the uncertainty of the balding linesman.
The game looks up for the U’s despite the fact that they are matching their opponents all over the pitch and creating goal scoring chances; I start to wonder if their best bet would be for the game to be abandoned because of the weather. My hopes of this are raised as36301673682_59ebd56d1e_o the intensity of the rain increases and the water bounces off the roofs of the stands and cascades down making the floodlights appear as watery roman candles through the moisture laden night air.
A late arriver sits next to me and asks if John Terry is playing; had I thought for just a second I should have said “Who”? But to my eternal shame I just tell him there’s no one I’ve ever heard of playing for Villa, adding that there was no Dennis Mortimer, no Peter Withe and no Gary Shaw. I’m not sure if he understood, although he didn’t look that young.
It’s twenty-five past eight and at last Colchester get a break as a shot from some distance is deflected into the Villa goal by Kent allowing him to atone for his earlier bum-sliding error. How we cheer. But half time follows soon after and the like of such chances for Colchester is not seen again. Aston Villa, under the management of the well-fed and somewhat boozie-looking Steve Bruce, unsportingly tighten up in midfield and the flowing football we enjoyed up until half-past eight becomes just a fading memory.
The home supporters console themselves by taunting the Villa fans, singing “You’re not famous anymore” which kind of contradicts itself and there’s a bit of native American style drumming at the few corners the U’s win. For my own part I gain disproportionate enjoyment from an advert on the illuminated scoreboard which displays the message “Watch from a box” and has me imagining fans sat in coffins along the touchline. Some fans have their loved-ones ashes sprinkled on the pitch, well why shouldn’t those not lucky enough to be cremated be able to come along too?
Despite their team being ahead for all but the first seven minutes of the match, The Villa fans have not been overly vocal, something the Col U fans have pointed out to them through the medium of song. The stadium announcer tells us somewhat too excitedly that there will be five minutes of added-on time and then with two minutes left of those five minutes the visitors from the West Midlands finally feel bold enough to mount a chorus of “We shall not be moved”. These are perhaps some of Britain’s more pragmatic, not to say cautious supporters. But there’s nothing wrong with that and it’s infinitely preferable to the big-headed, cocky attitude displayed by certain clubs’ fans from London, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. Indeed, it’s rather endearing.
As much as I don’t want Colchester to be knocked out of the Caribou Cup, I’m not too sorry when Mr Brooks blows for the last time and a further half an hour in the cold and damp has been averted by the U’s failure to equalise. The rain is still falling as the crowd of 6,600 odd file out of the stadium, but it falls with a bit less vigour and intensity as befits the moment when the game is over and the excitement has ended; it’s time to go home and dry out .