Colchester United 2 Coventry City 1

After a hard day at work (7 hours 24 minutes) there’s nothing like getting home to your wife, husband  or partner on a winter’s evening to enjoy an aperitif, a good meal and a relaxing evening of engaging conversation.  But tonight I have worked almost eight hours, caught a later train and now find myself on the cold, dark, traffic-dominated concrete forecourt of Colchester railway station leaning into a drizzle filled wind as I head for The Bricklayers Arms as a precursor to a bus ride out to the Weston Community Homes out in the middle of nowhere Stadium and an evening of fourth division football.

In the Bricklayers there are just a handful of drinkers, perhaps because it’s not yet six o’clock.  I buy a pint of Colchester Brewery Number One (£3.50) and settle down at a small table to read a couple more chapters of W Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage; I’ve been reading it for weeks.  A man called Mike and his grand-daughter walk in, he says hello and I reciprocate.  The Bricklayers is under new management and seems brighter and somehow larger than before, I like it but they have been unable to resist having inane words in different fonts painted on the walls –   “Menu, Share, Full Flavour, Experience, Greatness Awaits.”  They forgot “Huh?”, but at least the beer is bit cheaper than it used to be.

 

  Someone says it’s quiet because the trains are not running; there’s been ‘a jumper’ at Kelvedon.  The barman, with no one to serve, obsessively wipes down the bar.  There’s a group of four men who seem to be from out of town, well one of them has Scottish accent, and they sit and pore over the menu before discovering that food isn’t served on Tuesdays.  As they leave one of them says “We’re going pizza then are we?”    I return to the bar as the first appreciable numbers of patrons, mostly men going to the match arrive and stand in groups; I have a pint of Colchester Brewery Sweeney Todd (£3.50).  At length I finish another chapter, drain my glass and head for the bus.

It’s still wet outside and the soft lighting inside the buses gently illuminates the dull street; I pay my fare (£2.50 return) and head upstairs to the front of the empty top deck; car brake lights and yellow street lights glow psychedelically  through the misted up, rain spotted front window of the bus.  I eat a Ginster’s pasty that I’d bought earlier (£1.50 from Sainsbury’s); it’s strongly flavoured but the packet tells me that despite being ‘The Nation’s Favourite’ it contains just 14% ‘quality beef’. It doesn’t clarify whether that’s good or poor quality; the two large pieces of gristle I chew on don’t suggest the former.  The bus fills up and a bunch of middle-aged Coventry fans join me, still enjoying the thrill that we got when we were young, riding up at the front.  I ask one about the recent travails of their troubled club, but wish I hadn’t, because he goes on a bit.  I’m interested, but don’t want to write a thesis on it.  I’m not proud of this so don’t admit to my slightly ghoulish desire to see Coventry City, a club who were in the First Division for 34 years, playing in the Fourth Division. It’s morbidly fascinating, like having seen Simon Dee signing on.

 

The bus lurches, growls and hisses its way through the wet streets to the stadium where everyone politely alights thanking the driver for delivering us safely.  The stadium lights penetrate the gloom, casting angular shadows beyond the spiky stands. It’s only twenty five past seven so I take a wander around the ground to take in the ambience.  I love floodlights. It’s bleak and open out here, even more-so on a wet and windy night like this and people scurry towards the turnstiles appearing and disappearing between the shadows.  Across the A12 the jaundiced neon of the McDonald’s arches glows brightly.  Feeling cold I head for the warmth of the club shop from which a toy Eddie the Eagle stares blankly into the night.  The shop is virtually empty of customers; children have long spent their Christmas money and it seems no one wants a Colchester United air freshener, tea towel or pencil tonight.  I buy a programme, but outside from one of the cold and wet, windswept vendors.

 

As I join the three person queue at the turnstile a steward asks what I have in my bag and I try and make it sound interesting as I tell him about my umbrella and Kindle; he takes a look but mostly has a feel as if playing one of those party games where you have to pull out particular objects from a sock.  A female steward in a fluffy bobble hat asks me if I have any games. “What, like Snakes and Ladders or Ludo?” I say, bemused.  “No, on your Kindle” she says.   I didn’t even know you could have games on your Kindle. “You can read my book, if you want” I tell her as the turnstile beeps and I enter the stand, not really knowing if she would like W Somerset Maugham.  I reduce my liquid content and then take my seat, which appropriately is in Row P.

The pitch looks soft and muddy and Coventry City kick-off the playing towards the South Stand, Severall’s and the town far beyond.  Coventry wear their customary all-pale blue kit, not for nothing are they known at the Sky Blues.  Colchester United sport blue and white striped shirts and white shorts with beautiful blue and white hooped socks which look a treat. The drizzle sweeps across the pitch from east to west, visible only in the glare near the lights and unseen on the ground.

It’s a good game, Coventry try a couple of shots and then Colchester take over a bit, their number 20 Courtney Senior darting forward and repeatedly feinting to the right before running off to the left past hapless Coventrians.     In the seventh minute, as if to announce that they’d now got a quorum, the few hundred Coventry fans up the corner near the A12, somewhat surreally burst into a chorus of the Eton Boating Song.  It’s not because of the ‘jolly boating weather’ or being Old Etonians, but rather because when Jimmy Hill took over the club in the 1960’s, taking them for the fourth to the first division he wrote new Coventry-centric lyrics to make it the club song.  I always thought Jimmy Hill was a bit odd.  Now Jimmy is dead and Coventry City are back in the fourth division, but the song remains the same and they’ve brought their modern folk music with them to soggy Colchester.

People around me are getting involved in the game, some cuddle up for warmth , others are in fancy dress.  A free-kick is given to the Coventry goalkeeper after he’s challenged by a Colchester player, “How the fuck does that work?” queries a voice behind me. A dog’s bark echoes from the dark corner between the stands; there are two policemen with police dogs watching the game, the dogs turn around as if to ask “Who said that?”   The drizzle has draped itself over the walls of the concrete vomitoria in the west stand.  At the back of the stand a man talks loudly with occasional calls of “Come On U’s”.  He  sounds a bit like Harry H Corbett and in my mind I imagine he looks like Oliver Reed; I turn around to look, but can only see Roy Cropper from Coronation Street.

 

Twenty-six minutes have passed;  a couple of legs or feet trail and snag and courtesy of the interpretation of referee Mr Busby, Colchester have a penalty; Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe scores, they deserve it and possibly more goals, but 1-0 is still the score at half-time.  I go under the stand to escape the chill and release some more what’s become of the output of the Colchester Brewery.  The refreshment counters are doing a good trade tonight and there’s an intensity about the staff in their blue schoolboy caps as they dole out the over-priced, plastic wrapped, processed fare.  I flick through the match programme which is boring and too inoffensive for my taste.  I like the page on local football however and in particular the words of FC Clacton manager Kieron Shelley who is quoted as saying “I still believe this team is good enough to compete – may be not at the top of this league or even the middle but certainly within this league”.  I like to think he paused for a long time after he said certainly and perhaps went “…erm…”.

 

Within ten minutes of the game re-starting a newly galvanised Coventry City equalise as Tom Bayliss smacks the loose ball high into the middle of the goal from the edge of the penalty box.  The Eton Boating Song is heard again and I wonder what Captain Algernon Drummond, who wrote it back in the 1870’s would have made of Jimmy Hill and Match of the Day. As a riposte to the glorious swell of the boating song the Colchester fans respond with a Welsh hymn tune and sing “We forgot that you were here”.  I don’t know where they thought they had gone, to chapel perhaps.   Not to be out done the Coventry fans respond with “You’re not singing anymore” to the same tune and from behind me Roy Cropper booms “Shut up you Black Country tossers” showing off his knowledge of geography, but perhaps a lack of singing talent and vocabulary.  A youth in front of me finds it amusing though.

Coventry are having the better of the second half and I sense that Colchester might rue not scoring more than once when they were the better team.  The managers of both teams hop about in their ‘technical areas’ looking like they may also have been processing the products of the Colchester Brewery; and it is a cold night.   Colchester bring on their substitutes and Coventry introduce a man with three surnames, Johnson Clarke-Harris, a name which the Coventry fans quickly put to music covering the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.

The drizzle has stopped, but the cold is deepening and the damp is penetrating my bones.  My ankles and knees feel like pins are being pushed into them, my nose is numb and I sense an iciness crystallising around the very depths of my soul.  It’s the 88th minute of the game and just then Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe crosses the ball from in front of me,  Mikael Mandron leaps majestically in the centre of the penalty area, turns his head to divert the path of the ball, sending it firmly into the  bottom corner of the goal net. A goal, and Mandron salutes the crowd, before disappearing into a blue and white striped human hill, which includes mascot Eddie the Eagle.  Joy abounds.

After four additional minutes Mr Busby blows conclusively, Colchester win, Coventry lose and my circulatory system stutters back into life as I head for the bus and my lonely spouse.

 

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Coggeshall Town 5 Stanway Rovers 1

It’s the first day of August and with indecent haste the football season has started again. But in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division it needs to because the league has now been expanded to twenty four clubs and somehow between now and next May the teams have to fit in forty-six league fixtures, the FA Cup, FA Vase, League Cup and County Senior Cup and in some cases some other pointless trophy or other awarded in memory of a long dead official of the league or county FA. But it’ll be okay, as long as they take one game at a time.
It is about 7.15 and the car park is filling up steadily as I turn into Coggeshall’s West Street ground. But it is to be expected, for tonight is the first home League game of the season and it’s a local derby against Stanway Rovers. Walking from my car with my step son’s wife’s stepfather (what a tangled web we weave) to the turnstiles I sneer disapprovingly at how poorly some people have parked; you could get a bus in the space that Peugeot 205 is taking up. I pay my £6 entry fee or rather my fellow step-father does; it’s his treat because I drove and spent £1.50 on a programme, which is a bit steep, but it’s very thick paper. Inside the ground I pause to admire the view and the big sign which leaves no doubt about the direction to go for refreshments.36291481676_eb3fb0a23a_z We follow the arrow and I enjoy a pounds worth of pre-match tea; black because the milk is UHT.
The first game of the season is apparently, eagerly anticipated and I suppose I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be. There is a certain thrill at seeing the pitch in pristine condition, glowing green beneath the brightening flood lights. “It’s the greenest I’ve ever seen it” I hear a bloke behind say slightly incredulously to his friend. Meanwhile a pair of middle-aged blokes carefully copy the team line-ups down into note books; I delude myself that I make them feel antediluvian by taking a photo of the team sheet on my phone.36199259661_651e29bc89_o
Minutes later we’ve chosen our seats in the low, black tin-roofed stand and the teams are lined up on the steps that lead down from the changing rooms to the pitch. We wait, and wait a bit more, I get the feeling they are making a bit too much out of this eager anticipation of the first game of the season, but eventually the teams stream on. Coggeshall look groovy in their customary red and black stripes with black shorts whilst Stanway wear all blue with a white shoulder and hoop around one leg of their shorts; asymmetry agogo. As the crocodiles of players cross the halfway line the Coggeshall captain gets a bit motivational and hunches his back and claps his hands, bawling something about getting going and getting there as if crossing the half way line is what they’re all about. His team mates either don’t hear him or are wrapped up in their own pre-match thoughts, they remain impassive.36335636925_095215e6c7_o

With sporting handshakes out of the way, Stanway kick off the match towards the rough car park behind the goal to my left and Coggeshall town itself. A nerdy sounding man sat at the back of the stands says how he can’t have been here since the 1980’s, adding “Goodness me” at the end of his sentence as if he has surprised himself; another obvious groundhopper tells how he caught the train to Kelvedon and walked across the fields to get here. The nerd says how he hadn’t thought of doing that. Saving us from the boredom of this overheard, statement-rich conversation Coggeshall’s number 11 scores a rather good goal. Barely 10 minutes have passed.
Stanway Rovers have a barrel chested centre forward who, according to Wikipedia “…enjoyed a six-year career with Colchester United..” Coggeshall’s number ten has a crowning hank of obviously dyed blond hair, which makes him look like a wannabe League footballer, but he has no reason to envy the Stanway man tonight, as dyed hair or not the number ten scores a second goal for the Seedgrowers after Stanway fail to clear a corner. We haven’t even been here for twenty five minutes yet.
The ball is pumped forward a bit too far for a Coggeshall forward to get a shot on the goal and someone shouts “Recycle”, which is good advice for everyone. Nearly a half hour has passed and a nifty little shimmy on the edge of the penalty area earns the space for Coggeshall’s number 9 to score his team’s third goal. Blimey. The crowd applaud politely but sadly don’t seem overly thrilled by the unfolding spectacle before them although the Stanway contingent are probably squirming, particularly the committee members in their blazers and club ties. Coggeshall’s dominance doesn’t convince the un-smiling nerd at the rear of the stand though, who two or three times speaks of Coggeshall being “unconvincing at the back” or some such “footballese” phrase. “A goal for Stanway now would put a very different complexion on the game” he opines whinily like someone wanting to be confused with John Motson. Stanway do “come on strong” towards the end of the half and have a shot that hits a goal post, but the colour and texture of the game’s skin remains unaltered.
Half-time brings applause and a stroll to the club house to buy a coffee for my accomplice and a bottle of a beer I wouldn’t normally drink (Greene King IPA) for me; £4.50 for the pair. My accomplice is very complimentary about the coffee which he thinks might not be instant but made with real coffee. For my part I wonder if the club shouldn’t source some locally brewed beer (Red Fox or Nethergate or Colchester Brewery perhaps?). 36199208221_d1a402470a_oThere is a summer fete feel to the refreshments tonight with the clubhouse shut, but drinks served from behind a table in the doorway and burgers dished up from inside a stripy gazebo.
The flood lights are now fully on as daylight recedes and shadows envelop the surrounding fields. A combine harvester that had flashed a yellow revolving light and thrown up dust away behind the Stanway goal in the first half has gone home to the farmyard. I flick through the programme. The title “Our History in Brief” heads a densely packed page of print; the next page in equally dense print is headed “Our History in Brief Continued”. This theme of failed brevity is repeated a page or two further on as the title “Our Club Honours at A Glance” sits above a list of 38 entries dating back to 1898. I find the programme’s half-time quiz easy; question two is “In what year was the first World Cup held?” whilst question five asks “ Which is the only club to have played in every World Cup since it started in 1930?. All ten answers are laid out in a 3-3-1-3 formation at the foot of the page with a front line of 8. Kilmarnock 9. Stanley Matthews in 1965 10. Inverness and 7. Juventus playing “in the hole” behind the strikers.
Having sated my thirst for historical facts I watch the second half, occasionally pausing to sip beer. This is the life. Ten minutes of football later Stanway concede a fourth goal as Coggeshall’s number nine turns a low cross into the Stanway goal net. Within not very long at all the Seedgrowers “go knap” as the number ten with the blond coiffure treats another low cross in the same manner. Eventually, and oddly within just a minute of scoring their fifth goal Coggeshall revert to type and show their famed inability to defend as a free-kick is met with a looping header from the barrel chested man who enjoyed a six year career at Colchester.
The remainder of the match passes in a blur of red, black, blue and green with white bits. We discuss why there no great works of art about football; I don’t think Lowry’s “Going to the match” or Peter Terson’s play “Zigger Zagger” really cut the mustard. Meanwhile the floodlights reflect off the bald head of the linesman who late on in the game makes no attempt to stifle a yawn. 36199206801_514070f9c6_oMay be it was through fatigue, or perhaps he too has overheard the nerdy groundhopper’s tale of congestion on the A312. It’s academic however as at about twenty five to ten the referee Mr Andrew Gray, who the programme entreats us to respect, and we do, calls time through the medium of his whistle.
It’s been a grand evening of fine football from all the Coggeshall Town team who are worthy winners. The addition of tea, beer and coffee have just added to the fun and I will be back another day for more of the same. The season has just begun!