Ipswich Town 1 Crewe Alexandra 0

I first saw Crewe Alexandra in January of 1983 in a Friday night fourth division match at Layer Road, Colchester. Crewe lost 4-3.  Watching fourth division football was a release from the tension of following a declining Ipswich Town in our first season without Bobby Robson as manager and without the saintly Arnold Muhren in midfield.  The fourth division was fun and my friend Stephen and I had adopted Colchester United as our fun ‘second team’, although Stephen also professed a liking for East Stirling, and as we drove down the A12 we would add to our amusement by making up deprecatory poems about Col U’s opponents.

What are you gonna do

Crewe

when we beat ya four-two

Crewe

We’d rather watch Scooby-Doo

Crewe

Than watch you

 Crewe

It explains why your supporters are so few

Crewe.

We were young and didn’t know any better, although I still believe beat poetry has a place in professional football.  Back in 1983 Crewe Alexandra were perennial strugglers and were destined to finish the season twenty-third in the twenty-four team fourth division, one place higher than they had finished the season before; they had finished bottom and second from bottom in 1979 and 1980 too, whilst Ipswich were making hay whilst the sun shone at the other end of the Football League. Times change.

Today it’s a grey, cloudy day and rain streaks the windows on the back of my house blurring and obscuring the views of the garden and turning every window into a bathroom window.  I log onto the ifollow in time to hear the names of today’s virtual mascots, it’s like Junior Choice but without Sparky’s Magic Piano, and Brenner Woolley has replaced Ed Stewart, which is just as well given that Ed died in 2016.  “Alongside me” says Brenner is Mick Mills. Good old Mick.

Kick-off is nigh, but the novelty of the new Saturday afternoon routine of football on the radio or the ifollow has begun to wear off and lose its lustre. Attempting to re-invigorate it I have foregone my usual pre-match ‘pint’ and today I am sticking up two fingers to those of the football licensing authorities who would crush our enjoyment and am pouring a ‘pint’ (500ml) of Adnams Broadside which I will proceed to drink during the game and in sight of the pitch.

The game begins with Brenner telling me that it is Crewe that are kicking-off and playing from right to left.  Brenner draws our attention to Omar Beckles because he used to play for Shrewsbury Town under former Town fuhrer Paul Hurst and alongside Jon Nolan and Toto Nsiala.  I recall the 2018 League One play-off final in which Beckles was terrible; but on the plus side his surname sounds like a Suffolk town and his first name reminds me of the marvellous HBO tv series The Wire.  The referee is Mr Trevor Kettle, which is also a great name, for a bloke with a whistle.  Brenner adds even more biographical detail for the Crewe team, telling us that Michael Mandron played for Colchester United.  Brenner surpasses himself referring to Mandron the next time he touches the ball as “The big Frenchman”. Mandron was indeed born in Boulogne and amusingly, on his Wikipedia page under the heading ‘Personal Life’ all it says is that he “…supported Real Madrid when growing up, while he also followed the results of Paris Saint-Germain.” What a fulfilling life he must have outside football.

 In the absence of any decent on-pitch action from Town Brenner reveals that Town manager Paul Lambert is stood with “…arms folded, in his black overcoat”.

Fifteen minutes pass and as an Ipswich supporter I am not enjoying the match; Crewe are selfishly keeping the ball to themselves most of the time, whilst Ipswich rarely have possession in the Crewe half of the field.  A caption appears in the corner of the screen revealing that possession of the ball is 57% to 43% in Crewe’s favour.  “Crewe the better side, at the moment” says Brenner honestly, but offering hope that things can change.  I don’t know if it’s the feebleness of Town’s performance that’s getting me hot under the collar or if I’ve got the radiator turned up too high but I’m feeling warm and am compelled to take off my jumper uncovering  my “Allez les Bleus” T-shirt beneath.

Crewe’s Ng has a shot which Brenner tells us Tomas Holy “throws his cap on”, although given the weather today he would have done better to have worn a sou’wester.  Over twenty minutes have passed and Gwion Edwards has Town’s first shot at goal, if you exclude Andre Dozzell’s hopeful punt which hits a Crewe player before it has travelled a yard, which I do; Gwion’s shot travels harmlessly wide of the Crewe goal.  Eight more minutes pass and Tomas Holy blocks a shot from Crewe’s Lowery who is unmarked about six metres from the goal; Lowery should probably have scored.  Such is the absence of any decent play from Town that Brenner and Mick begin to talk about the weather.  Mick starts it, making just a passing reference, but Brenner picks it up and carries on “…it has been terrible weather hasn’t it” says Brenner, sounding like a housewife chatting with her neighbour over the garden fence.

There are ten minutes until half time and the ifollow stutters, a quadrant of a circle flashes on the screen and play stands still.   The picture moves, and then stops again and does so three or four times more.  The feed returns in time for me to hear Brenner listing Town’s forthcoming fixtures, the last of which is against Crawley Town in what Brenner reveals is now called the Papa John’s Trophy; at last a sponsor to do this competition justice.

On the pitch things don’t improve “We’re just watching the game at the moment” says Mick, not of Brenner and himself, but of the Town team. Half-time arrives as a blessed relief but as the teams leave the field the ifollow pictures show that Paul  Lambert is not sporting an overcoat as Brenner had described earlier but is actually wearing an anorak or a parka.  This not only calls in to doubt Brenner’s knowledge of jackets and outer garments, but also for a man who earns his living from painting an aural picture of what he sees before him, his inability to accurately describe a coat has shaken my faith in the accuracy of his commentary.  Seeking solace in tea and nut based snacks I put the kettle on and unwrap a Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.

At four minutes past nine the game resumes on the ifollow.  The pictures are soon interrupted by buffering and I miss Town winning a corner and then another.  Six minutes pass “This is a different game so far second half” says Mick, not quite forming a proper sentence but making himself understood nevertheless.  Mick is right, as he so often is.

Andre Dozzell is booked for the fifth time this season, which is an incredible feat for a player of his supposed ability; he needs to learn how to tackle or not bother.   Oliver Hawkins has a diving header saved by the Crewe goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen.  Town are no the longer the feeble team they were in the first half, but Crewe haven’t given up just yet and construct another intricate passing move “Almost gymnasium football that they play” says Mick. “Yes, almost 5-a-side” says Brenner clarifying the matter for those listeners who might be sat at home wondering what the hell ‘gymnasium football’ is.

It’s the 62nd minute. Town win a corner; it is taken short, little Alan Judge crosses the ball and big Oliver Hawkins heads the ball into the goal.  Despite having not played as well as Crewe for most of the past hour, Ipswich are winning.  My happiness is tempered within ten minutes however as without warning the ifollow goes completely berserk and transports me back to the 55th minute and I get to see Andre Dozzell being booked for a second time.  The only good thing is that he’s not sent off, but I quickly realise that I can fast forward to the present day and catch up in time to see Kayden Jackson replace Oliver Hawkins.

  Crewe make two substitutions replacing Owen Dale and the “Big Frenchman” with Daniel Powell and Chris Porter and the balance of the game swings back in Crewe’s favour. Town are forced to defend for much of the last fifteen minutes. “McGuiness makes one of his customary leaps” says Brenner growing tired, and Wintle shoots from distance, his shot going “…down the throat of Holy”.

The ifollow starts playing up again with more buffering and Brenner and Mick’s commentary takes on the character of a tribute act to Norman Collier.  Service is restored with the good news that  Leiston, Lowestoft, Needham and Felixstowe are all winning their respective FA Trophy ties.  It’s a quarter to five and I turn the kitchen light on to create my own little homespun version of floodlit atmosphere.  Keanan Bennetts replaces Freddie Sears, and Brenner refers to Tomas Holy as “The giant Czech keeper”.  Kayden Jackson is booked for idiocy and Gwion Edwards is booked too, but for Andre Dozzell style tackling.  Brenner adds colour to the grey afternoon and his commentary for the benefit of radio listeners describing “Ward just drying the white ball on his blue jersey”.

There will be five minutes of added time for assorted delays and possibly the ifollow buffering.  Crewe continue to press for an equaliser; “This is a bit awkward to watch Mick” says Brenner seeking support from his side-kick whilst audibly squirming in his press box seat.  More bad news for Mick is that Boris Johnson’s planned broadcast to a disinterested nation has been delayed until 6.30 and therefore the post-match phone-in will take place.  As Brenner unfeelingly tells him, Mick can’t go home early but must “…do a full shift”.

At last the game ends with Town blagging their way through the remaining minutes and even succeeding in retaining possession for a short while to frustrate their opponents.  Brenner asks for Mick’s summary “We’d not be telling the truth if we said Ipswich deserved to win the game” says Mick almost apologising for what he is saying as he says it.  But he’s right, even though trying to play decent football in the third division is possibly doomed to failure. 

Mick’s thoughts are abruptly cut short as the ifollow feed ends and I am left alone in my kitchen trying to think of words that rhyme with Brenner.

Colchester United 0 Forest Green Rovers 3


It’s been a foul March day; blustery, wet and cold; at times the word very has been in front of those adjectives.  Now it is gone seven o’clock, the sun has gone down and it’s mainly miserable and dark, particularly at the Colchester Park & Ride car park, an exposed expanse of dimly lit tarmac next to the A12, adjacent to a petrol station and a McDonald’s. Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town.

Across the A12 the lights of the Colchester Community Stadium, currently known as the Jobserve Community Stadium and formerly the Weston Homes Community Stadium, which I like to call ‘Layer Road’, shine, but not enough to satisfactorily illuminate the ticket machine at the edge of the car park.  The machine  asks for at least three digits from my car number plate, then changes its mind and asks for all of them and then tells me to pay with coins; I don’t have any.  I trudge the 70 odd metres to the typically streamlined Park & Ride waiting room building and change a fiver into coins with the help of another machine. I ignore the queue of other people buying tickets at the machines there and trudge back to the dimly lit machine.  A kind man illuminates it with his mobile phone and after the machine first claims ignorance of my car registration it eventually allows me to purchase a ticket (£3).  

I walk to the football ground between bright lights planted into the ground that don’t actually illuminate the path only give me a clue where it might be.  I turn left onto Boxted Road and traverse the bridge over the A12 with its high metal sides presumably there to prevent suicidal football supporters from jumping down onto the highway; I turn left into United Way and arrive at another open expanse of tarmac upon which here and there are painted the words BUS STOP.  A white Mercedes Benz is parked partly across the word STOP.  I shed a tear for the shuttle buses which no longer ply their way to the stadium and were the only thing that made this god forsaken location for a football ground even faintly viable. I have probably watched Colchester United play well over 300 times in the last 35 to 40 years but have not been to ‘Layer Road’ since the shuttle bus service stopped running, until tonight. Tonight I have come to see Forest Green Rovers play Colchester United because I want to see Forest Green Rovers, the Football League’s only vegan football club, the only Football League club owned by a former ‘New Age’ traveller.  The irony that I have had to drive to watch this club famed for its ‘green’ credentials is not lost on me.

The Community Stadium is as bleak and lonely as it ever was, surrounded by a car park and nothing much else.  The Forest Green Rovers team bus sits up a corner by the main stand, disappointingly it looks like a regular team bus, not powered by methane or biofuel or anything other than dirty old diesel. I take a look in the well-stocked club shop, where trade is slow; toy bears stare out into the car park but no one is buying.

I queue at the turnstile for what feels like seconds wishing I had a bag for the steward to look into to make this experience more interesting.  Inside the ground however things look up, the programmes are free! This is like being in a civilised country like France where free football programmes are de rigeur and fleetingly I am transported to the imaginary Rue de Layer where Unifie de Colcestre are about to take on Nomades de Foret Vert in the Ligue National.   The sight of Pukka pies not baguettes and Carling instead of espresso coffee returns me from my reverie.   I spot a former work colleague called Mark, which is nice, and we shake one another warmly by the hand; he introduces me to his friend Darren who like me is really an Ipswich Town supporter.  Mark tells me this should be a good game, although Colchester United tend to either ‘do alright’ or lose 3-0.  Up in the South stand I take my seat,  I am sat behind a man and woman who I recognise from the Barside at Layer Road from over thirty years ago, they look much the same, just slightly shrivelled with age.

The U’s soon kick off towards me in their customary blue and white stripes, although from behind their shirts are all blue with white sleeves as if they couldn’t really decide if they want to be in stripes or not.  Their white socks have just two blue hoops as if they couldn’t decide if they should be hooped or not either.  There are no such uncertainties with Forest Green Rovers’ kit of overly dark bottle green with lurid day-glo green trim.

Colchester dominate the start of the game taking on the role of 6th placed promotion hopefuls eager to cement their place in the play-off positions, as someone on Sky Sports TV might say.  Ninth placed Forest Green defend capably.  “It’s a long way on a Tuesday, innit?” says the bloke behind me and is not fully understood by his companion.  He explains that it’s a long way for Forest Green supporters to travel from wherever it is that Forest Green is, “Somewhere down Portsmouth way, I think”.    Forest Green Rovers actually play in Nailsworth in Gloucestershire, so they’re more Laurie Lee than Lord Nelson, but I don’t turn round and tell him that.

The Forest Green number 23 Joseph Mills is the first player to make an impression; he is wearing his hair in a bun.   “You’ll never make it Ward” says a voice at the back of the stand, seemingly attempting to goad the Forest Green goalkeeper Lewis Ward who is dressed all in pink.  From the middle of the stand directly behind the goal a chorus of “Ole, Ole, Ole” rises or perhaps it’s “Allez, Allez, Allez”; it’s hard to tell, it could be both.  After twelve minutes Colchester win the game’s first corner.

Twenty minutes have passed, Colchester are doing okay just not scoring.  Forest Green cross the ball from the left to Lloyd James, he quickly shoots and scores from a good 18 metres or so from goal. No one was expecting that, it’s probably the first shot on target.  “Come on Col U” chant the understandably disappointed but not unduly upset occupants of the South Stand.  But things change, the crowd becomes more vociferous, less happy, more angry.  Colchester win another corner to no avail and Forest Green players spend time sat on the turf looking pained.  “Get on with it, you bloody…” shouts an angry man so irate that he can’t think of a word to finish his sentence.  It’s nearly twenty past eight and Forest Green break away down the right, one pass, another pass and number ten Reece Brown side foots the ball past Colchester’s slightly exotically named goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin.  Forest Green lead 2-0. Colchester’s number forty-five Frank Nouble kicks Lewis Ward out of spite and becomes the first player to be booked by the slightly portly referee Mr Alan Young. Colchester rather pointlessly win a third corner and Lewis Ward is booked for mucking about.

After three minutes of added on time comes the half-time whistle and I head downstairs for a pounds worth of PG Tips in a plastic cup and to check the half-time scores, but mysteriously all the TV sets are on their sides; perhaps the Sky subscription is cheaper like that; it would be okay if you could lie down on a sofa to watch it.  Ipswich are losing.

The second half is much like the first, just a bit colder.  The breeze is getting stronger and there are a few spots of rain in the air.  In the West Stand a man in a blue and white wig and bath robe reclines against his seat looking bored.  Perhaps like Bobby Ewing he will later step out of the shower and find it was all a bad dream. Colchester press forward but Forest Green defend well, blocking every shot, thwarting every move, frustrating the spectators.   The crowd begin to blame Mr Young for a lack of free-kicks to Colchester or too many free-kicks to Forest Green.  “You are kidding” shouts an exasperated man at Mr Young and drawing out every word.  “What is wrong with you referee?” asks someone else.  “Show some flair referee” says another rather more obscurely “Show some bollocks” replies yet another, a little crudely.  I for one want Mr Young to keep his shorts very definitely on.  A few rows in front of me a young woman, or very high pitched man shouts viciously, rendering herself or himself incoherent with vented spleen.   The atmosphere is unpleasant and it’s no wonder Boudicca sacked the place back in AD60 if the inhabitants were as narky as this.

Despite Colchester’s dominance of possession and shots it takes until gone ten past nine for Lewis Ward to make a decent save as he dives away to his right like a flying raspberry blancmange to give Colchester another pointless corner kick.  The final ten minutes begin and Forest Green show that they can keep and pass the ball very neatly, so much so that they end up passing to an unmarked Christian Doige who despite a suspicion of offside amongst the home supporters scores a third goal.  The names Shephard, Brown, Doige appear as verse on the scoreboard.

With the game lost its time for two youths to run onto the pitch, probably as their tribute to recent televised pitch incursions at Arsenal and Birmingham.  They only look about fourteen.  One of them makes a break for it trapping himself at the back of the East Stand having athletically vaulted over several rows of seats. “Wanker, Wanker, Wanker” shout the South Stand. “Wanker!” shouts an angry man behind me a little belatedly, and sounding a bit stupid as a result.  He should have saved his shout for the equally silly Frank Nouble who rounds off an entertaining evening by committing a needless foul, getting booked for a second time and consequently sent off.

The crowd of 2871 are already heading off into the dingy car parks and wasteland outside before five minutes of added on time are announced.  A wildly bearded man in patched double denim rails at the team as others shuffle past. “Worst game of the season” a man says to me unintentionally referencing Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons as he raises his eyebrows and edges past me. I wait until the very end to get my money’s worth (£18.50) before also heading off into the damp and dark to walk to my car and travel home alone fondly remembering the days when we left the ground together sharing our misery in a crowded shuttle bus.

Brantham Athletic 0 Stowmarket Town 0

It’s a dull late January day; layer upon layer of slate grey cloud block out the sun, darkening the soft , deep browns of the claggy fields and casting the naked, leafless trees as black silhouettes. I catch the train to Manningtree from where it is just over a kilometre’s walk to the Brantham Leisure Centre, home of Brantham Athletic; the Blue Imps. At Manningtree Station the platform sign says “Manningtree for Dedham Vale”, but it doesn’t mention Brantham Athletic. Today Brantham Athletic, eighth in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division play Stowmarket Town, third in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division. The train is on time; a man walks by as I wait on the platform and opens a bag of crisps, a waft of artificial roast beef flavour assaults my nostrils in his wake. On the train I sit by a window, a ticket above the headrest states that the seat is reserved from Liverpool Street to Ipswich, but it’s vacant; what has happened to the person who reserved this seat? Did they miss the train? Are they getting pissed in the buffet car? The guard makes an announcement; the PA system is faulty and it sounds as if he is just talking loudly from the next carriage. The announcement does not solve the mystery.

a dull grey january day

Even on a dull January day it’s not a wholly unpleasant walk along the A137 from Manningtree station (which is actually in Lawford) over the River Stour and the marshes and meadows either side. The traffic is nasty but the scenery’s not. I take my life in my hands as I walk beneath the bridge below the railway line where there is no footway just a continuous white line to separate the would-be pedestrian from the traffic, but I survive to tell the tale. At the river, a gang of cormorants are hanging about on the mud. Over the river I am safely into Suffolk and I pass two blokes with powerful looking cameras; twitchers probably; Cattawade marshes is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). I cross the old road bridge at Cattawade before walking along Factory Lane past the derelict, mostly demolished premises of ICI and then turn left up towards the Brantham leisure centre. The shingle covered car park is already pretty full and it’s only twenty minutes past two. A sign that says “Kitchen in the clubhouse” strikes me as a little odd, I wouldn’t have expected to find it in the car park. There is no turnstile, just a man in a wooden shed. I pay my entry fee (£7) and buy a programme (£1), the man in the shed meticulously crosses off two more squares on the sheet in front of him. Even now there’s a short queue to get in, they’re all from Stowmarket. I enter the club house, a flat roofed building in the style of the 1950’s or early 1960’s with plenty of windows with UPVC frames. I look towards the bar but the one hand pump has the clip turned away from public gaze, indicating that there’s no real beer here today. I should have stopped for one at the Manningtree Station Buffet instead of just looking at the art in the tunnel beneath the tracks. I buy a bacon roll (£2.50), a young woman takes my money, cooks the bacon and then serves me the roll. “Well done Lill” I hear an older woman say from within the kitchen.

I take my bacon roll outside because the smell of hot cooking oil from the kitchen is a bit unpleasant and with my thick wool jumper and coat I’m feeling rather warm, hot even. I stand on the neatly manicured grass in front of the clubhouse; the teams are warming up on the adjacent cricket pitch which makes Brantham’s a slightly unsatisfactory ‘three-sided’ football ground. More and more Stowmarket Town supporters arrive, identifiable by their black and old gold knitwear. I head for the main stand, a beautifully modest, home-made looking structure of wooden benches smoothed by Suffolk buttocks, and white painted stanchions behind a brick wall, with the words Brantham Athletic Football Club painted along the front of the lean-to roof. If sitting on the back row it’s necessary to be careful standing up so as not to bang your head; I may be 1.87m tall, but I love a low roof. “Martin” calls a voice from the back of the stand; it’s Alistair, a disillusioned Wivenhoe Town supporter. Al takes in a local match most weekends with his young daughter; she’s a real football enthusiast and she’s only about six. We talk as the teams walk onto the pitch at the club house end of the ground before lining up to shake hands and say “How are ya?”. At last the game is ready to begin and I leave Al and his daughter in the stand, partly to promote my self-image as ‘a bit of a loner’, but mostly because it’s hard to see one of the goals over the top of the somewhat outsized metal-framed ‘dug-out’, which looks like the sort of structure you might park your bike in.

Stowmarket Town get first go with the ball, their favoured direction of kicking for this first half being towards the River Stour, the marshes and the main London to Ipswich rail line, with the clubhouse behind them. Stow’ wear an unnecessary away kit of all red, but it contrasts well with Brantham’s all blue strip and together on the bright, soft green turf they form a brilliant scene beneath the grey clouds. This may be Constable Country, but it’s all gone a bit Fauvist down here at the Leisure Centre.

Stowmarket are quickly on the attack and winning a corner. “Be strong” says their coach and I almost expect him to burst into song. Behind the Brantham goal a line of Stowmarket supporters hang over the rail. “Lip-up Fatty” they call to the chunky Brantham number four, appropriately channelling the song by ‘Bad Manners’. The number four then inexpertly slices a hoofed clearance off the pitch and looks down at the pitch as if to blame a worm cast or dissident blade of grass for his mis-kick. I decide that Stow’s number 2 and captain looks like a smaller version of Marseille’s Luis Gustavo.

“Oh Stowmarket is wonderful, oh Stowmarket is wonderful” the Stow’ fans then chant, to the tune of “When The Saints Go Marching In”, going on to qualify this by describing how it is full of the body parts that only women have, as well as Stowmarket Town Football Club. It’s not something Stowmarket town council advertise on their website. Stowmarket continue to dominate possession, but Brantham are their equals. At about twenty past three referee Mr Robertson-Tant, who has a high forehead and deep set eyes, a bit like Herman Munster, airs his yellow card for the first time, booking Stow’s number ten for barging the Brantham goalkeeper. Coincidentally and fascinatingly, one of the linesmen has a pronounced widow’s peak, not unlike Eddie Munster, Herman’s only son.

This is a close game, which is a good explanation for its lack of goals although just before half past three Stow’s number seven does turn smartly as a prelude to hitting a shot against the Brantham cross-bar. With half-time approaching I stand behind the Stowmarket goal in order to be closer to the clubhouse and the tea within. I catch the last exchange of a conversation between two blokes in their twenties or early thirties about an unidentified player. “Yeah, he’s shit, well he’s not shit, but…he’s shit, int he.” This is the sort of incisive player critique that the likes of Mark Lawrenson or Garth Crooks can never hope to provide.
Half-time arrives, the floodlights flicker in to life and I seek the warmth of the clubhouse; my right hand is burning with cold because I seem to have dropped my right glove on the way the railway station; later, on my walk home I will find it on the pavement where it fell. I join the queue for a pounds worth of tea in a polystyrene cup; the man behind me in the queue orders coffee and cheesie-chips; I don’t know why but I find cheesie-chips amusing. Despite the deepening cold I return outside; it’s too warm and noisy in the clubhouse and I’m more suitably dressed for the outdoors. In the window of the clubhouse I look at the team sheet; oddly only the players’ surname and initials are given, which seems unnecessarily formal. I take a look at the programme, there’s not much in it but I like its amateurish layout and the reference to Emiliano Sala in the Chairman’s report. I saw Sala play for Nantes against Lille a couple of years ago and have watched him numerous times on TV, I liked him a lot.
For the start of the second half I watch from the metal, prefabricated stand situated in one corner at the clubhouse end of the ground; apparently the seats were brought from Colchester United’s sadly missed old Layer Road ground. I don’t sit here long because the man behind me talks with a loud, piercing voice which hurts my ears. I return to the side of the ground by the dug outs. Stow’s number four, M Paine becomes the second player to be booked by Mr Robertson-Tant, I’m not sure why.
Stow’ continue to have the ball more of the time than Brantham. but look no more likely to score. “Stop fuckin’ dropping” shouts the Brantham manager to a defender as the game enters its last quarter and nervousness and angst begin to surface. At about half-past four Mr Robertson-Tant books G Clarke of Brantham, firstly raising his arm and flexing his wrist to point to three or four approximate locations around the pitch where Clarke had recently committed other misdemeanours; I like it when referees do that. Persistent fouling is my favourite offence for this very reason. Meanwhile the Stowmarket ‘ultras’ continue through their repertoire, rather repetitively re-living Depeche Mode’s “I just can’t get enough”. It’s almost twenty five to five and Stowmarket almost score as R Garrett receives a ball on the left, surges forward, goes wide of the challenge of the Brantham goal keeper L Avenell, but hits his shot against the base of the goal post from an acute angle.
With the game in its closing minutes I enjoy the glare of the floodlights and the deep blue darkness of the evening sky as much as the increasing anxiety of both teams’ coaches. “Watch that line, watch that line” says one of the Stowmarket coaches to the substitute J Mayhew as if he just can’t be trusted not to stray offside. He then says “Watch that line” just once more, for luck perhaps. “Brandy!” shouts the other bobble-hatted Stow’ coach to his goalkeeper C Brand, although it’s a name more suited to a porn actress, “…put a fuckin’ angle on it”, before saying “Shut it” to a Brantham supporter who passes comment. “Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze!” bawls the Brantham coach preferring cliché to coarseness. The final words before I move towards the exit go to the bobble-hatted Stow’ coach, “Fuck’s sake” he says.
The game ends goalless. It’s been a frustrating match, more for Stowmarket than for Brantham perhaps, but that may be just because of the weight of the combined hopes of their greater number of supporters. As I walk away across the cricket pitch towards the river the teams warm down and the Stow’ supporters wait to applaud their team from the field. I reflect upon whether watching local non-league football isn’t just the perfect way to spend a winter’s afternoon and return to the railway station, smug in the knowledge that I’ve also kept a car off the road today and helped to save the planet.

Ipswich Town 1 Wigan Athletic 0

In 1978 when Ipswich Town were winning the FA Cup, Wigan Athletic finished second in the Northern Premier League behind Boston United and were elected to the Football League in place of Southport. Today, as ever-present Phil who never misses a game will later joke, Wigan are Town’s peers and today we meet. That’s a good joke Phil, you are wasted teaching IT to the youth of Northampton. Wigan bobbed about in the ‘lower divisions’ for several years, I remember seeing them lose frequently at Layer Road in the 1990’s, but eventually the club had the good fortune to be adopted by millionaire Dave Whelan who built them a stadium and paid their way in to the Premier League (spit). I met Dave Whelan once in a professional capacity; he flew down to Ipswich by helicopter just to meet me, and my colleague (boss). As we talked informally to break the ice my colleague, let’s call him Steve because that is his name, offered him a million pounds for Titus Bramble (then a Wigan Athletic player) and he accepted. I’m still not sure what we would have done with Titus Bramble in our office.

Today is a gloriously grey mid-December day. The sky is dull, the wind is gusty and the cold is very cold; so cold it cuts against my skin like a knife as I walk to the railway station. There are plenty of people waiting for the 12:57 train; Christmas shoppers mostly, heading for the bright, twinkling lights of Colchester. The train is late. A freight train seems to be to blame; it crawls through the station belching thick, dark diesel fumes. “Bloody hell” says a youth out to his impress his mates before he breaks into a bout of ostentatious coughing. More mature people cover their noses with their scarves or hold their breath. I wander down the platform and wait near a man who has hair like a young Sid James. The train is nine minutes late, but arrives in due course. As it draws into the platform two men in their late sixties manoeuvre themselves towards the sliding doors. “Ooh, it’s one of the refurbished ones, have you been on one of these?” says one of the men who has an unfortunate squint to one eye. The other man doesn’t answer. I imagine he’s thinking “Twat”.

The Christmas shoppers and Sid James desert the train at Colchester and I  am left to contemplate a sign inviting me to recharge my lap-top, tablet or phone, but only my lap-top, tablet or phone, from a sealed up power point. It’s as if Greater Anglia railways had considered being generous, but then thought better of it.

Ipswich is as grey and cloudy as the station where I began my journey and the streets are cold and quiet. I stride over the Princes Street bridge purposefully in my overcoat and blue and white scarf, probably smiling slightly to myself because I’m looking forward to the match; surely we can win today, I’m thinking. A woman in a car waiting at the traffic lights catches my eye and gives me the thumbs up. Yes, we will surely win today. I see the banners on the lamp posts advertising the Rodin exhibition at the gallery in Christchurch Park and am further inspired; I really must go and see ‘The Kiss’. We’ve got it all in Ipswich. Seriously.

Portman Road is quiet for a match day but perhaps that is because the turnstiles are already open and the people usually here at 1.30 are all inside doing whatever people who arrive an hour and a half before kick-off do. I head for the Fanzone to deliver a bag of groceries to the FIND foodbank charity; I’m not going into the Fanzone but a steward tries to stop me nevertheless because I haven’t shown that I have a match ticket, I tell them not to fret, I’m only going ‘over here’. Hopefully FIND will have had a successful day and will make further collections on future match days.

I head on to St Jude’s Tavern past a steward walking a car along Sir Alf Ramsey Way, I call to him that he needs a red flag. St Jude’s is very busy but I quickly avail myself of a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which today is St Jude’s Thaddeus. I perch on a bar stool in a dark corner; it’s the only vacant seat left. I’m not quite half way through my pint when Mick appears at the door, the large fur-trimmed hood of his coat casts a deep shadow over his face and beard making him look a little like a slightly sinister polar explorer. Mick quickly acquires a pint of the Thaddeus too and we talk of car insurance, my recent weekend in Amiens, of Trappist beers (Orval and Chimay), Jules Verne, ethical candles, gilets jaunes and Emmanuel Macron. Finishing my first pint, I buy a pint of Mr Bee’s Black Bee (£3.40) and Mick has a half of the Match Day Special. Time flies by and it’s almost ten to three, I have to dash.

 I seem to be the last person to be making his way down Portman Road towards the glowing floodlights, in the nearing distance supporters scurry across from the car park and hurry through the turnstiles like people getting in, out of the rain. At the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand I greet the turnstile operator with cheery smile and proceed to the seats where as ever I will find ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and Pat from Clacton.

Phil hands me a Christmas card, which is nice  and after the referee Mr Scott Duncan poses for photos with the team captains and mascots the match is soon underway. Town get first go with the ball and are trying to send it in the direction of me, Phil and Pat. Town as ever wear blue and white shirts despoiled by the ugly advert for on-line betting whilst Wigan are obviously the away team because they are all in yellow.

The game is a bit of a mess. Town start slightly better than Wigan and mill around their goal for a bit, but without threatening to score. Not really making the best of the Latin rhythms of Guantanamera, the 310 Wigan supporters in the Cobbold Stand sing “Down with the Wanderers, You’re going down with the Wanderers”. Presumably they are addressing their song to Ipswich and not to their own team, but you never know. At the North Stand end of the ground the ambience is less Cuban and South American and more Spanish, although the chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” are swept away on the icy wind above the muffled sound of drums. Wigan begin to have more of the ball, but are as ineffective close to Ipswich’s goal as we are to theirs.
The game settles down into scruffy mediocrity but the hope that everyone is drawing from the realisation that Wigan are as bad as we are is palpable; at times that hope congeals into belief and the vestiges of long lost vocal support ripple through the stands. “We’re going to see Tina Turner the musical on Friday, in London” I hear Pat say. “I’m not” says Phil.

There are several free-kicks and the Wigan players seem keen to hold proceedings up whenever they can by feigning mortal injury and clutching various limbs before skipping off to kick or shove someone in blue and white. Frustrated by another delay the old dear behind shouts “Keep it goin’, we gotta get home tonight. It’s obviously not cold enough for ‘em.”

With a half an hour gone a tuneless, droning chant of “Wigan, Wigan, Wigan, Wigan, Wigan” makes a succinct commentary on the type of game it is and makes me think of the Buzzcocks’ “Boredom” and I mourn the death of Pete Shelley quietly to myself whilst waiting for something good to happen. A page from a copy of the East Anglian Daily Times dances its way across the pitch, blown and buffeted by the wind. Then another page floats by and another. “ It’s coming across a page at a time” says the elderly voice behind me and she chuckles ,enjoying the sight of paper blowing about more than the match it seems. A serious looking steward with a head wrapped in earphones steps forward to grab a piece of the newspaper and dispose of it. “Underground, overground, Wombling free” I sing. It’s twenty-five to four and Freddie Sears breaks free of the Wigan defence, he bears down on goal, he shoots over the cross bar. Five minutes later Wigan’s, or more accurately Everton’s Callum Connolly misses the goal too after a corner, “Crikey, you’re worse than us” is the verdict from behind me.
Half-time is a blessed opportunity to thaw my hands beneath the warm air blowers in the gents’ toilet; it’s a cold day and I’ve drunk two pints of beer so I take the chance to use the other facilities too. Outside on the concourse I eat a Panda brand liquorice stick and then, back in the stand chat with Ray, who also hands me a Christmas card. It is starting to rain and it’s getting dark.
The second half of the match begins and the break has made me more conscious of the cold easterly wind; even Paul Lambert has a coat on this afternoon, even if he has left it not done up. For now, despite slowly numbing fingers due to fingerless gloves, I feel warm. My woolly socks, cosily fitting boxer shorts bought in an Amiens supermarket (Auchan), a T-shirt bearing the words “Allez-les bleus”, long-sleeve cotton 1950’s Ipswich football shirt, chunky woolly jumper, beneath a heavy overcoat, and a woolly ITFC badged hat and scarf seem to be doing the trick. I was worried about the boxer shorts because they have the word ‘Athletic’ all around the waist band, but have decided that like sticking pins in a wax effigy having a part of the name of our opponents printed on my pants will put a hex on them.

The standard of football doesn’t improve. “It’s probably better on the radio” says the old girl behind me. The cold intensifies with the rain and my feet start to feel like blocks of ice. Dean Gerken the Ipswich goalkeeper draws disapproving moans and groans from the crowd as he hurries a clearance, which screws away into touch. He glowers back at the crowd. Perhaps he senses and even resents the loyalty in the crowd to Bartosz Bialkowski. The wind and rain are making it difficult for players who like to hoof the ball, but I think we are right to expect better on this occasion. I begin to wonder if this game might not become the win we are waiting for, but despite that minor ‘altercation’ with “Gerks” there is still a prevailing atmosphere of hope and support. We know we aren’t here to be entertained, we are here to see a win and people are sensing that they have some part in making that happen because perhaps the team might not be able to do it alone. Every now and then a string of on-field events will cause an eruption of supportive sounds from the stands and belief is restored. Even when a shot from Wigan’s Reece James strikes the Ipswich cross bar it seems to galvanise the support, not make them depressed and scornful as would have happened last season. It’s gone twenty past four and an Ipswich ‘attack’ takes ‘shape’ in a random manner on the right. The ball is hit hither and thither and into the box where there is more bagatelle until Freddie Sears half volleys the ball into the ground and towards the goal, it strikes Everton’s Callum Connolly and, as Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton looks over his shoulder, the back of the goal net. Ipswich Town are winning.
The remaining twenty four minutes are both awful and utterly enjoyable. The referee Mr Scott Duncan, despite having the name of a former Town manager whom the supporters respect, unlike the last four managers, makes a catalogue of dubious decisions many involving granting Wigan free-kicks around the edge of the penalty area. But this only draws everyone together, if we have to beat both Wigan Athletic and the referee so be it. Town manager Paul Lambert is equally gung-ho and has now discarded his coat like some sort of footballing King Lear challenging the wind and freezing rain to do its worst.  Wigan’s last chance is the ludicrous addition of seven minutes of time added on, it’s as if Wigan have benefitted from their own time wasting earlier in the match. But thankfully Wigan are not good enough to make anything of it. If it was a Friday in the 1960’s it would be time for Crackerjack by now, but at last Mr Duncan’s whistle draws its last and Town have won at home for the first time in just over six months and for just the third time this year.
This has  been the worst brilliant match I have ever seen and certainly the best terrible one too. The foul, freezing weather has just made it more marvellous, more memorable. This is what being a football supporter is all about, days like this. I have learned again the joy of a single win. The wait has been worth it. I feel sorry for those supporters of clubs who have never been bottom of the league in mid-December without a home win, they don’t know what they’ve missed. Today our souls have been enriched.
Tonight my wife and I shall drink champagne.

Colchester United 0 Morecambe 0

It is a still, grey day. It is an autumn day with a winter chill. The train into Colchester is on time. There is a man in Colchester United themed attire on the station platform. I am wearing a 45 year old blue and white bar scarf myself, but mainly to keep out the cold rather than to express my love for Colchester United; my scarf is an Ipswich Town scarf. Opposite me on the train is a girl with glasses and green hair, she looks like she might have spent time as the plinth to a bronze statue, but I wouldn’t say it doesn’t suit her. Arriving in Colchester I waste no time in heading for the Bricklayers Arms

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: I have no reason to linger at the railway station; after all, I’m not a trainspotter.
It is but a short walk to the Bricklayers; even though it’s a quarter past one on a football Saturday, there aren’t many people in the pub. I soon avail myself of a pint of Adnams Old Ale (£3.65) from the cheerful blue-haired bar maid and take a seat with a copy of the Colchester local paper, The Gazette. The Gazette is a dull read today; I scan the letters page disdainfully, who gives a toss what the sort of people who write to the local paper think? The best bit of the paper is the local football news; Holland FC are cutting their playing budget, which no doubt explains why last week their manager resigned. There are a few more people in the pub now and nearby a middle aged man talks about bar scarves. “ I had one like that” he says pointing at his friend’s scarf and then proceeds to try and make a point ( I think) about why his original scarf was better, but he never really gets to the point before his friends interrupt with their scarf experiences and another bloke arrives with the beers . It doesn’t matter, he is going to buy a new hat at the club shop today anyway. I get a second pint; Damson Porter (£3.80) this time.
The conversation about me is dull and there is rugby on the telly, I leave to catch the bus to “Layer Road”, or “Weston Homes out in the middle of nowhere stadium” as it’s now known. As I turn the corner into Bruff Road

from where the buses leave a bus leaves, but another one rolls forward to take its place. The bus driver shares his cab with a young boy (his son?) who he gets to operate the ticket machine. Paying my £2.50 return fare I ascend the stairs, ticket in hand and take a seat at the front of the bus. “Hello Martin” says a voice next to me “Hello Martin“ I say. It’s a man I used to work with called Martin; he is retired, he has a Colchester United season ticket. He tells me how later this month he is going to see England women’s team play Kazhakstan at “Layer Road” and his ticket only cost a pound.
The bus soon arrives at the stadium and before going in I buy a programme (£3)and take a look in the club shop. I pick up a “fixture list and family guide”, whatever that is; football fixtures and family planning advice in one handy leaflet? Anything is possible. I walk to the end of the stand, the Morecambe team busOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA is sat with the engine running; it’s a long trip to Morecambe so may be the driver is hoping for a quick getaway. There isn’t much going on outside the stadium so I head for the turnstile. Once inside I feel compelled to visit the toilet. Feeling more comfortable I meet another man called Martin who I used to work with; he has a season ticket like the other Martin, but isn’t retired. Martin is compelled to visit the toilet just like I was and so I take up my seat; there is no one sat either side of me, there aren’t many people here today, I later learn that I am one of just 2,872. It’s the smallest crowd for a Saturday league game at “Layer Road” this season.
Kick-off is imminent and with no delays for minutes’ silences or applauses today the match soon starts. Colchester United get to kick the ball first this afternoon, heading towards the A12 and small Marks & Spencer in the service station over the dual carriageway. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColchester wear their ‘traditional’ blue and white striped shirts and white shorts with blue and white hooped socks. I like hooped socks; I wish Ipswich Town would wear them. Morecambe wear the archetypal away kit, an insipid all pale yellow number which is bland and annoying. It’s as if no one at Morecambe could be bothered to come up with anything distinctive. I can forgive clubs for a lack of ambition, especially on home gates of less than two-thousand, but please look like you care. It is unclear why Morecambe even need to wear their away kit today because their first choice colours are red shirts with white shorts.
The ball is hoofed off the pitch within seconds of the start, but that’s a highlight as the game quickly settles into a boring goalless draw. Morecambe do little to begin with, and whilst Colchester have the ball at their feet more of the time they don’t do anything much that would result in a goal. Individuals make runs with the ball, but the concept of passing it accurately seems alien.
The two blokes behind me have a conversation which is as directionless as the game. I hear snippets. ”It was cold yesterday, Monday it was cold” one says. “According to the paper there were 600 there, I thought it looked more” says the other. Colchester are awarded a corner. “ I know it was cold Monday at work….no, I wasn’t at work on Monday. But it was cold”. Elsewhere in the stadium the crowd briefly comes to life “Come on Col U” they implore a couple of times before falling silent again. The game fails to grip the attention of the blokes behind who carry on their conversation “I went to watch Leyton Orient, they fucking got beat mate, load of fucking shite mate”. “Whereabouts is Morecambe?” “It’s north of Blackpool on the coast. Don’t you remember, where those cockle pickers were?” Eddie the Eagle the Colchester mascot walks back and forth like a wild animal in captivity, which I suppose he is, in a way.
Morecambe, whose club badge consists of a huge shrimp on a red background set beneath the word “Morecambe” eventually begin to have an equal share of possession as if they realise that Colchester are incapable of doing anything with the ball, so they might as well have a go. Morecambe fluff a couple of half chances but then a careless back pass leaves the interestingly named Aaron Wildig in front of the Colchester goal keeper with the ball at his feet. But Wildig fails to react quickly enough, then chooses to shoot from a narrow angle when he could have passed the ball; his shot is easily saved and the opportunity is lost.
Half-time is a blessed relief and I queue in the anaemically, strip- lit void beneath the

stand for a pound’s worth of Tetley tea; others, mostly smokers, escape the claustrophobia of the concourse through the open doors at the back of the stand. It feels like we have been granted our freedom and I half expect stewards to move amongst us telling as we are free to go if we wish. Mindful that I paid £17.50 to be here I returnOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ‘indoors’ and make my way back to my seat, warming my hands around my paper cup of tea.
The second half begins and some Colchester supporters seem galvanised by being able to shout abuse at the away teams goalkeeper; bizarrely as the “The Shrimps” goalkeeper prepares to take a free-kick a man at the back of the stand calls out what sounds like “Get on with it , Coco Chanel”. Despite the Morecambe players all wearing little black dresses with matching handbags the game doesn’t get any better and my mind begins to wander. There is a small brown leaf on the back of the seat in front of me

evidencing the onset of autumn, but also the fact that the stadium cleaning regime probably needs improving; there is an assortment of other rubbish behind other seats.
The game is two-thirds of the way through, for the first time I think I hear faint cries of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Come on Morecambe’ from the half a pint or so of Shrimp fans searching for one another in the corner of the ground. Some of the Colchester supporters are getting restless; there are some more chants of “Come on Col U, Come on Col U” and angry groans when passes fail to find Colchester players.

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A man in front delivers an implausibly shrill “Whaaaat!?” when referee Mr Lee Collins awards Morecambe a free-kick. There are more plaintive calls of “Come on Col U” as supporters begin to plead with their team to score a goal. This was meant to be a game Colchester would win; the U’s are tenth in the league table, two points off the play-off places, nine places and eight points ahead of Morecambe.
Substitutions are made. It’s nearly twenty to five and Colchester’s number nineteen Mikael Mandron breaks down the left, he gets in the penalty area, gets to the goal line and hooks his foot around the ball to send a low cross in to the centre. All around there is excitement and expectation. A man in front of me begins to stand up. The Colchester substitute, number twenty-four Craig Slater is there, he shapes to shoot the ball into the net, he must score; he completely misses the ball, collapsing in a tangle of legs and arms with a Morecambe defender. From near ecstasy to embarrassment in the blink of an eye. A short while later Slater misses again, but this time he gets the ball, smashing it against the cross bar; so that’s not so bad. As the addition of three minutes added-on time isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA announced a big number 3 appears on the scoreboard and there is a dash for the exits, as if another three minutes of this will be just too much to bear.
Mr Collin’s final whistle predictably is the prequel to a chorus of boos that echo around the emptying stands. It’s been a dull game OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAon a dull afternoon and the intensity of this dull experience has been deepened by the fact that there weren’t many of us here to witness it. Up in the stand a board advertises the ‘Matchday Experience’ and gives a local telephone number, as if you could just phone up to experience what we’ve all just been through.  I head off towards the bus stops, numbed but nevertheless enriched by the glumness of the occasion. Such awful games are what it’s all about; pain and missed opportunities. That’s life. Good, innit.

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