Coggeshall Town 6 Fakenham Town 1

 

If I had remained completely true to my existential, celebrate-the-mundane self, this piece might be entitled “Halstead Town versus Swaffham Town match postponed due to a frozen pitch” and would be a description of how I came to follow Halstead Town football club on Twitter and discovered that the match I had intended to watch this afternoon would not take place.  It would not have been a long piece and I might even have just written it.  But games get postponed and life goes on and so I looked for another game to watch and the nearest one to my home address is in West Street, Coggeshall, also known as ‘The Crops’, although I will be disappointed to discover that the sign announcing that no longer adorns the side of the changing rooms.

It is a cold, still December day; not bitterly cold, more penetratingly cold, although my hearty optimism and excitement at the thought of going to a match easily quench the thought of getting a little chilly as I set out on the three mile drive from my house.  Diving off the A120 into Coggeshall I motor past the Co-op where later I will buy some corned beef, milk, beer, Muscovado sugar and dairy free chocolate, the latter being for my dairy intolerant spouse. In the centre of town a bus is turning right to head past the ground on its way to Braintree; a pang of guilt hits me; I could have used public transport, there is a bus stop at the bottom of my garden; but then I couldn’t have popped into the Co-op.  Emerging from down-town Coggeshall and its fine collection of timber-framed buildings, the football ground is on the left and I park up at the front of the site taking care not to back my Citroen C3 into an Audi behind me, despite my dislike of ostentatious automobiles.

There seem to be few if any people heading towards Coggeshall Town football ground this afternoon, although it is barely twenty to three, and entering the ship-lap clad wooden turnstile block is a lonely experience.  But the turnstile operator is a cheery fellow and   greets me like a long lost friend, almost to the extent that I want to ask, “Do I know you?”, but that would seem a bit rude and to be honest I have a very poor memory for faces. I join in with the bonhomie therefore and then offer a fresh ten pound note for the admission and a programme (£1). “Are you, are you…….er, normal?” asks my new friend clearly struggling desperately for the right words to ask if I might qualify for the concessionary price.   “Yes, I‘m normal” I say hopefully, understanding that he means I pay the full price (£6).  He apologises, explaining that some people get upset if you ask them for the full price when they qualify for the concession because they are old bastards.  I reply that I understand, and I do.   The bloke at the turnstile goes on to tell me that the clubhouse is open and so is the tea bar at the side; he is not  just a turnstile operator he’s a concierge.

Having paid my entrance money I linger just beyond the turnstile taking in the view of the pitch and countryside beyond from the concrete path that leads to the club house.  It’s a beautiful sight.  I move on and recovering from the disappointment that ‘The Crops’ sign is no longer on the side of the changing rooms I find that the clubhouse has been renovated since I was last here, the exterior having been covered in modish cladding and there are glass doors adorned with the club crest; the interior is updated in similar fashionable materials, there is also an area of decking outside; it all seems a bit like a holiday village rather than a football ground, but then I grew up in the 1960’s and fondly recall pubs having outside toilets, as did my grandmother’s council house.  Stepping outside again I explore the low stand behind the goal and look at the pitch side

advertisement hoardings; it seems that everywhere I go an undertaker sponsors the local club.  I am also impressed that there is an advertisement for a maker of sash windows; no doubt a busy man given Coggeshall’s many old buildings.  I then meet my next door neighbour’s son Sam who is here with a bunch of mates from school; he tells me his dad his here too and he’s not having me on.  Paul my neighbour is enjoying a hot drink and after watching the teams file down on to the pitch and saying hello to a man called James, who plays guitar and used to work for Crouch Vale brewery, I join him as we wait for the first half to begin.   As the teams line up and the coaches occupy their benches, he tells me that one of the track-suited blokes in the dug-out is Ollie Murs, who I understand is a singer, popular with modern day teeny boppers.   I’m sure he is no Johnny Hallyday nevertheless.  Repose en paix Johnny.

Coggeshall kick off the game in the general direction of Braintree, wearing red and black striped shirts with back shorts whilst their guests from faraway Fakenham wear white shirts and blue shorts and have the name Macron above the numbers on the backs, sadly not because they all share the surname of the French president but because the shirts are manufactured by a company called Macron. Coggeshall look very much like the home team, by which I mean they dominate the attacking play, which is no surprise given that they are second in the league table and Fakenham fourth from bottom.  My neighbour tells me that Coggeshall’s star striker gets £300 a week and £50 a goal; I have no way of knowing if this is true, but if it is it doesn’t seem right or fair in a league in which most clubs struggle to attract an average crowd of one-hundred; but apparently he‘s not playing today anyway.

The early part of the game is not brilliant to watch and I am as interested by the sky, the trees,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA an old man poking his head into the tea bar and the lads lined up behind the Fakenham goal as I am by what happens on the pitch; my neighbour refers to the lads behind the goal as ‘herberts’, doubtless because his son is amongst them, although his son’s name is Sam.  Coggeshall ought to score because they clearly have the better players, but at about twenty minutes past three a cross drops at the far post and the ball is side-footed high into the Coggeshall goal net to give ‘The Ghosts’, for that is their nickname, an unexpected lead.  Predictably perhaps the goal shames Coggeshall into action and within five minutes they equalise; an unchallenged header drifting past the static goalkeeper and inside the post.  Thereafter Coggeshall dominate and play some pretty passing football, but ultimately a lack of true team play prevents them from registering the goals their superior ability suggests they should score.  I take a walk around the pitch seeking a different perspective.  Fakenham move forward and from behind the Coggeshall goal I overhear a conversation between Coggeshall’s number two, a big man with blond highlights in his already blond hair and the goalkeeper: “ I nearly put it out for a fucking corner” says the full-back “ I Know, fuck me” Says the goal keeper.   Half-time arrives and the score is 1-1.

I head to the tea-bar and buy a pounds worth of tea in the hope that it will fortify me against the deepening chill.  Where I have not worn my gloves in order to snap photos, my hands now feel like pins are being driven beneath my finger nails.  The cold has recognised that my thermal socks are a worthy opponent and has by-passed them to go up my trouser leg beyond the top of the socks to penetrate my shin bones.  My neighbour eats an enormous sausage roll (£3.50) that Captain Scott would have coveted and the tea possibly saves my life or at least prevents frost-bite.  I check the half-time scores and am disappointed by the news from Middlesbrough that Ipswich are losing 1-0, although the fact that the Danish, former Toulouse striker  Martin Braithwaite scored the goal, softens the blow because I spotted him as a talent a few years ago,

Half-time over, I take up a seat in the low main stand because my back is aching and also because, frankly, I sometimes enjoy my own company.   To my right five blokes in their late sixties or seventies discuss the score. One of them, a jowly man wearing a bobble hat is adamant that the score is 2-1and the others don’t seem confident enough in the memory of their own observations to tell him he is wrong.  Eventually, a young woman wearing large glasses confirms that the score is 1-1 and I back her up.  Oddly, within seconds, Coggeshall score a second goal to really make the score 2-1 and then quickly add a third as Fakenham fail to successfully make the transition from the dressing room to the pitch.

With not an hour gone, the game is as good as won for Coggeshall, nickname The Seedgrowers, which gives the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the disappearing daylight.  A bank of cloud on the horizon denies us a spectacular sunset but instead givesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the appearance of a mountain range looming up in the distance like the Pyrenees over Languedoc.  Whilst waiting for a fourth Coggeshall goal the old blokes behind me discuss the imminent changes to the fifth and sixth steps of the non-league pyramid and I ponder the fact that Coggeshall’s number eleven appears to have one white leg and one black leg.  This is no doubt due to a knee brace, but it leads me to imagine the implications of mixed race people literally being half black and half white.   The number eleven is a busy, energetic little player but embarrasses himself by finding space on the flank and calling to a team mate with the ball “Feed me, feed me”.  I am reminded of the plant in the ”Little Shop of Horrors”, but the number eleven has the good grace to glance into the crowd looking a little embarrassed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbove the glow of the floodlights the sky is midnight blue, but It’s only just gone twenty past four.  Coggeshall add a fourth goal, and then at four-thirty the Seedgrowers’ number ten scores the best goal of the game as he lofts the ball in a graceful arc over the goalkeeper from just outside the penalty area.   Fakenham respond with some substitutions and bring on a large bald man who looks like a Turkish wrestler and two much slimmer and younger players, one of whom looks like his shirt number is the same as his age, fourteen.   Despite there being no doubt about the eventual result, the match remains competitive, which manifests itself in sustained shouts and calls amongst the players which ring out coarsely in the cold winter air.   There are also some very entertaining tackles, which the frighteningly clean-cut referee Mr Farmer rewards with yellow cards, but they give the crowd and players something to bray about.  It’s now five minutes to five and everyone is thinking about going home as a low cross finds the Coggeshall number ten Ross Wall free at the far post and the ball is slammed low into the net, thumping the board behind the goal with the hollow thud more usually heard when the ball misses the goal and hits the advertising hoardings; I find it slightly disorientating, but heck, it’s 6-1 and Ross Wall has a hat-trick.

Mr Farmer soon blows his whistle for the last time today and a sated crowd of 108 disperse into the club house or out into the car park and the early evening.  Having zig-zagged my way through the emptying seats of the stand I pause and speak again with Jimmy who is now with his wife, and then head for the Co-op.

Colchester United 2 Yeovil Town 0

It is the last Saturday of the football league season, well sort of; in fact it is one of two last Saturdays of the football season and a last Sunday. Thanks to the need to create a television extravaganza out of the resolution of the promotion and relegation places the third division finished last Sunday, the second division finishes with noon kick-offs tomorrow and the fourth division finishes today with all the games kicking off at five-thirty, a time when most civilised people should be thinking about what they’re having for tea. The first division (I think they call it the Premier League nowadays) finishes I don’t know when and I don’t care; I don’t suppose Leicester will be winning it this year though, it’ll be back in the oily grasp of one of the usual cartel no doubt.
It’s a bit of a grey uninteresting day for the time of year, but with the occasional burst of sunshine, which conveniently is how I would sum up the season I have just witnessed following mostly Ipswich Town and Colchester United. I take the train to Colchester sitting across the gangway from of a man in a sports jacket and jeans and neatly coiffured hair and his female companion who is dressed similarly, but her jacket is more tailored and the jeans more tapered and a bit too tight if I’m honest; it’s not a look I would endorse for either of them, if asked. I sneeze from the effects of their perfume and body spray which mingle poisonously.

Arriving in Colchester I make the short walk to the Bricklayers Arms and drink £7.30’s worth of Adnams Oyster Stout, which sounds a lot when written like that. I drink one pint indoors and one in the garden, where I risk lung disease from the smokers. The pub is busy and I joke with the bloke on the table next to me about how long he is going to have to wait for his mate to come back with another beer. Eventually everyone is drinking and talking football. “He’s a good player that Alves”… I like that Spanish football”…. “Still a lot of diving though”…”That Luiz, wasn’t he good at free-kicks?” …”Yeah, he scored a good one earlier in the season” ….” Who’d he play for before then?” ….”PSG and Benfica”. Worn down by the conversation people clear off to get the bus to the Weston Homes Out In The Middle of Nowhere Stadium. As I leave the pub a bill board of Pierce Brosnan33751939113_3657b1eba5_o makes me laugh out loud as I recall his Texan accent from a trailer I saw for his new BT TV epic serial; but with his bushy grey beard he just looks a bit of a twat too.

As I get to the bus stop I’ve just missed one bus, but having parted with £2.50 I get to choose whatever seat I want on the top-deck of the next one. 34432079531_5ee09c1af6_oThis bus soon fills up and then we’re off and then we’re there; it’s not far. A young lad in the seat behind me is incredulous as the bus draws up outside the stadium and he sees the car park and crowds beyond. “Cor! That’s really good for League Two” he says with the enthusiasm of youth. “Yeah, but it’s all glory hunters today innit” replies his slightly older and more worldly wise friend and indeed the older boy is right. Having struggled by on gates on three thousand for most of the season , there are more than twice as many here today (6,565 is the official figure) as Colchester have a chance of making the play-offs, along with about half the other teams in the division.

After purchasing a programme (£3) I join one of34521082746_bfe9c98d07_o four long queues into the South Stand, standing behind a fat man with a very growly voice. At the back of the stand on the way from the bus stops a man in uniform with a little green Land Rover is recruiting for the Army. It seems a bit unfair to try and recruit from Col U fans who it seems are already an endangered species without actively putting them in harm’s way. I don’t suppose we will be hearing “Billy don’t be a hero” played over the public address system this evening.
The queue moves slowly, and finally at the third attempt my bar-coded ticket unlocks the turnstile. After using the minimalist, almost “Scandi-style” stainless steel and breeze-block urinals I take up my seat not long before the game kicks-off. The game begins, I watch the opening exchanges carefully, intently even, but then see a steward I know who is peering up into the stand, looking for ‘troublemakers’ most likely . She sees me too and we give a little wave diffusing the intensity of the start of the game. Phew.
The atmosphere today is atypical of a Col U match; I can’t hear those echoing calls from lone voices abusing the opposition and giving quirky encouragement; if they are here they are lost in the murmur of an additional three and half thousand voices, 34431994831_7b94f39b19_opeople unfamiliar with the etiquette that demands you sound off at football. It’s not a bad game though and Col U are looking the better team and with a half hour gone that provokes one spectator, presumably anxious about a play-off place and therefore frustrated that the U’s haven’t scored yet, to break ranks and shout critically “we’re going backwards”. In England the concept of just keeping possession of the ball is still one that a lot of people struggle with.

Then, at about five past six, a space appears, enough to allow No 31 Tarique Fosu-Henry a clear sight of the Yeovil goal; he shoots, he scores and Colchester are winning and for the time being are in 7th position in the league, and in the play-offs.34431988691_2b98262141_o “Layer Road” is all of a quiver now and a few people are on their feet whilst the stewards gather at one end of the stand to quell any over-excitement.  34431963621_31fee1312a_oFifteen minutes later and the voice from the public address system still sounds unfeasibly excited as he announces that the fourth official has indicated there will be at least 2 minutes of added on time to be played before it’s time for a cuppa.

With the half-time whistle I dash back to the Scandi-lav just in time to have to avoid a collision with a woman turning around and rushing out in a state of sheer panic. She’d taken a wrong turn, I guess, I hope. Having left the khasi and then spoken to my steward friend I return to my seat to peruse the programme, enjoying a couple of the names in the Yeovil squad, starting with their number four who rejoices under the name of Bevis Mugabi, which is wonderful and beautifully reminds us that the odious president of Zimbabwe is Butthead Mugabe. Two other fine names belong to Brandon Goodship and Ollie Bassett, Bertie’s brother.

The start of the second half witnesses mental flip-flopping from the two teams as Colchester seem to switch from thinking “Yay, we’re winning” to “No, we have something to lose” whilst Yeovil switch from “Oh crap, we’re losing” to “We’re losing, that is an affront to our sporting sensibilities”. Hence Yeovil, or the Glovers as they are known, take the upper hand, gloved presumably and metaphorically they throw a few punches or lay down the gauntlet. It doesn’t last long though and Colchester’s Drey (yeah, like the squirrel nest) Wright is sent through on goal with just the goalie to beat. But Jonathan Maddison’s gloves, hopefully made in Yeovil, are not tested as Drey simply misses the goal.

The excitement subsides a bit as the scoreboard tells us about forthcoming Status Quo and Bon Jovi tribute acts and the man next to me folds his arms across his chest because it’s getting a bit chilly, or perhaps because he doesn’t like tribute acts. I notice that Yeovil are playing up to a West Country stereotype by advertising the name of Thatcher’s cider on their shirts and then the scoreboard tells us that we could “Get close to the action for as little as 10p a day”, which makes me wonder if there is £36.50’s worth of stuff I need or even want to know about Col U in the course of a year. At the edge of pitch an advertising board says “Macron” ;34562258905_5849f92e67_o it’s good to know that we’re not supporting that dreadful Le Pen woman in tomorrow’s French presidential election.

Col U are still in the play-offs but not too much is happening and on 72 minutes some supporters desperate to cheer something celebrate a goal for Accrington Stanley at Stevenage, another team with a chance of qualifying for a play-off place. But there is a better reason to celebrate four minutes later as the ball is pulled back across goal leaving Tarique Fosu-Henry in sufficient space for a second time to score for a second time.  A lairy looking character runs onto the pitch and is hauled away by stewards.

Everything is going swimmingly for Col U or is it? Word arrives that just before Colchester scored their second goal Carlisle United had taken the lead away at Exeter City, pushing Colchester United down into 8th place, outside the play-off places. A pall of near silence falls over “Layer Road”. It’s now quiet enough to hear an anxious voice shout “tackle him”, although he’d better advised to try and cheer on Exeter City. The dream is fading and the part-time supporters first drift and then flood away, 34400546302_31fa352b77_oleaving a row of empty seats in front of me along with a pile of empty sweet wrappers but taking with them the promise of tooth decay, obesity and type two diabetes.

With the final whistle I head post-haste for the bus back to the railway station. Col U played well and deserve their lap of honour in front of their fans, but stuff that I want to get home. My wife has been keeping me updated about her team Portsmouth, who have won the Division Four championship this afternoon and champagne is once again in the fridge just waiting for me to open it for her. Play Up Pompey!

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Later that evening I fall asleep on the bed fully clothed.

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