Ipswich Town 2 Blackpool 0

I am a little ashamed to admit it, but my record of seeing Ipswich play Blackpool is rather poor and weirdly, of the nine occasions on which I have seen Blackpool play away from home, six of them have been at Layer Road, Elm Park, Griffin Park or Fratton Park, not Portman Road.  Of course I have excuses.  Ipswich’s first nine fixtures against the Tangerines in the 1960’s and early 1970’s occurred before I attended my first game in April 1971. Town then didn’t play Blackpool at all throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s which were the years when I had the time, the money and inclination to rarely miss a game. When Town’s and Blackpool’s paths next crossed again, in the 2007/08 season, I am pleased to say I did make it to both Portman Road and Bloomfield Road; but one visit to the coastal town they forgot to close down was enough for me, and I haven’t been back since, despite the lovely trams.

In 2009 the home fixture versus Blackpool coincided rather inconveniently with my father’s funeral; I guess I could have sneaked away after the interment; he wouldn’t have minded I don’t suppose, particularly given that he was dead beneath a couple of metres of Suffolk sod, but some of the relatives and other folk left breathing might have thought it was a bit off.  Since then, due to disillusionment inspired by the appointment of Roy Keane, a four year spell on the committee of an Eastern Counties League club and then a sudden illness I have  made it to just two of the seven subsequent Portman Road fixtures.  Today therefore I am rather chuffed to even be ‘virtually’ at the game, courtesy of the ifollow and I have even ordered a programme, which I am pleased to say has arrived in this post this morning; well played Royal Mail.

The post isn’t the only good thing about today I find. It’s a beautifully grey, dank winter’s day and a pall of dull cloud hangs over the horizon as I take a walk along puddle strewn roads between sodden fields and beneath the gaunt, dripping trees.  It’s a lovely day for football.  Back in the warmth of my centrally heated home I enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ of fennel tea; I awoke in the small hours with a terrible stomach ache and it feels like it might still have a grievance.  My wife Paulene is watching Troyes v Toulouse on BEINSports tv and I join her on the sofa for the top of the table Ligue 2 clash; Paulene kindly says she will forgo the second half so that I can watch the ifollow in the comfort of the living room; she’ll just sit and read.

Having left the Stade de l’Aube with second placed Toulouse enjoying a 1-0 half-time lead over first placed Troyes, I log into the ifollow in time to hear the names of today’s virtual mascots, Sheeran, Adolf and Brenner, being announced, or rather given their “Shout Out”, although thankfully no one actually shouts them out.  The mascots’ names may really have been Sebastien, Brodie and Zak, but I couldn’t say for sure and I like to think either set of names is equally plausible.  A brief excerpt of commentary follows from 2013 when a goal from the underrated but foolish Michael Chopra gave Town our last but one victory over Blackpool at Portman Road.  Finally the main event arrives, and the BBC Radio Suffolk studio hands over to “Mick Mills alongside Brenner Woolley.”

Brenner’s opening gambit is that defeat for Town this afternoon is “something that simply cannot be allowed to happen” although he doesn’t raise our hopes much as he refers to Town being “stuck in this malaise”, and I imagine a world in which Morrissey is a BBC local radio football commentator.  Brenner asks Mick what he makes of Luke Chambers being dropped from the team for today’s game.  Mick is not surprised but clearly feeling solidarity with another Town captain he admits to feeling “shameful” about it, which he shouldn’t because unless he’s not telling us something it wasnt his decision.  Mick explains how Chambers has been a “fabulous servant” and whilst he’s not a “10” each week, he’s never a “3” either, and is “…right in the middle of those”; which makes him a six and a half which is almost  on the sunny side of  solidly average.  Mick carries on with his monologue and I drift off before I am eventually shaken from my reverie by Brenner’s joyful sounding reference to a possible “Sears, Parrott partnership”.  I don’t suppose for a minute such a thing will happen and suspect Brenner simply liked the sound of those three words together, I know I did. Blackpool kick off towards Churchman’s in their “all tangerine” kit and Brenner ignores the white band across their shoulders.

It takes Brenner less than 47 seconds to use the phrase “early doors”, which is a new record; the doors are clearly getting earlier, very much Light My Fire rather than Riders on the Storm.  Brenner quickly ploughs on through his regular obsessions, telling us that Luke Woolfenden has had his haircut ; “ gone is the alice band” he says, before revealing that the ball has been given away by the  “Australian Dougal”, who sounds like a character in an antipodean version of the Magic Roundabout.

Town have started well. “A lot to like about that attack” says Mick as Myles Kenlock and the fabulously monikered and on-loan Troy Parrott link up.  Nine minutes pass. “Very little in the way of goalmouth action so far” says Brenner bringing us back down to earth.   Another Town attack flounders before getting inside the Blackpool penalty area. “Parrott lost his footing “ says Mick and childishly I laugh imagining a tropical bird falling off its perch.

“Corner kick in the rain” says Brenner coming up with what sounds like a song title as he combines commentary with a weather report.   The corner comes to nothing, but it keeps on raining.  “We’re quite strange to each other, this line-up” adds Mick having difficulty finding the right words to tell us that the Town players won’t be very familiar with each other as team mates.  As if to prove Mick’s point the play immediately becomes a little messy, “Harum scarum” is how Brenner describes it, delving into his supply of slightly archaic expressions that most people no longer use.  Myles Kenlock is booked for what Mick rightly labels an “unnecessary challenge” on Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel; Freddie Sears was covering but it was as if Kenlock had just wanted to kick Lawrence-Gabriel anyway, perhaps because of his unnecessarily extravagant surname.

The nearside of the pitch beneath the shadow of the West Stand is very wet and the ball doesn’t run freely here. “Held up in the brown ground” says Brenner finding a of saying mud without mentioning awful 1970’s pop bands.  Blackpool are now having a bit more possession and have had a couple of decent opportunities from free kicks wide on their left. As another passing move breaks down Mick resorts to helpful homily, “They often say in football the simple ball is the most difficult one” he says, but taking care not to quote his sources.

Luke Thomas shoots wide for Town after another decent passage of play.  “Blackpool have never ever won here” says Brenner, acknowledging that he is tempting fate but suggesting it’s okay if he says it very quickly, although I’m not sure that makes a difference unless fate is a bit hard of hearing.  But Mick raises our spirits with what doesn’t sound too much like faint praise “We’re close, we’re close to playing some good stuff here”.

Thirty-eight minutes have gone since kick-off; Freddie Sears has a ‘goal’ disallowed for offside after some excellent play by Troy Parrott who is living up to his name and playing like a Trojan; “Really like Parrott” says Brenner, understandably.  Mick’s only quibble with Town’s first half performance is the centre halves, of whom he says “They’re a bit easy-ozy”; it’s an expression that not even Brenner would use.  Half-time is looming, it’s the 43rd minute and Brenner gets the opportunity to say “Town get a rare first half goal” as little Alan Judge strikes the ball with the outside of his right boot from at least 20 metres out.  “Wa hey!” I shout, a little disbelievingly. But it’s true, and when half-time arrives Town are in the lead, although the ifollow half-time scoreboard still says the score is nil-nil, but I don’t expect any better of the EFL.

In the half-time break I drink another cup of fennel tea and eat a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar. I muse about how Blackpool were a top club in the late 1930’s through to the mid 1950’s and how back then their fans probably never imagined that they’d one day be playing a league fixture against Ipswich, certainly not one in the third division. Coincidentally, Town fans no doubt thought the same in about 1981.  At 16:07 the game resumes and Brenner is soon saying “That would’ve been a fabulous goal from the home team” as Freddie Sears’ shot is saved by Chris Maxwell in the Blackpool goal. From the corner it‘s a matter of “…nodded down by Woolfenden and in” from Brenner after a Blackpool player obligingly heads the ball on at the near post.  Town lead 2-0 and I’m cheering again, releasing that inner cheer which has been welling inside me in recent weeks with nowhere to go. Mick is so excited he can barely explain anything anymore “He just dinked it in to the, err empty sort of, not an empty net, but into the net, you know” he says incoherently.

Town look very good for the lead and are plainly the better team with the best players.  Brenner starts getting clever. “Here’s Parrott, dropping off the front line” he says, clearly winning a bet to get the words ‘parrot dropping’ into his commentary.  Mick meanwhile revisits his favourite lesson about the third goal being important; today he explains it succinctly and with crystal clarity, as if he’s been practicing.  Town win a corner from an errant Blackpool pass “Corner from 40 yards, love it” says Mick, revelling in Town’s dominance and almost collapsing into laughter at Blackpool’s  mistake.  Within seconds he’s as giddy as Brenner and is talking about “gymnasium football” once again, the sort of football everyone else knows as 5-a-side.

Nearly an hour has been played. Troy Parrott is fouled by Chris Maxwell, who charged out of his goal to get him, Maxwell is booked and, Brenner tells us, is wearing a “washed out light green kit”, he’s the tangerine that hasn’t ripened. From an Andre Dozzell free-kick Mark McGuinness misses the goal with a header when he should score. “Definitely, the better side, Ipswich” says Brenner, once again using his trademark sentence construction of placing the subject at the end.  Gwion Edwards replaces Luke Thomas.  “The final 27 minutes” says Brenner, adding unexpected gravity to a random, and still quite lengthy amount of remaining time.  Josh Harrop replaces Andre Dozzell and Oliver Norwood replaces Troy Parrott, whose name I will miss in Brenner’s commentary.

Twenty minutes remain. Oliver Norwood wins a corner from a low cross.   Flynn Downes has a long conversation with the referee “… as he’s entitled to do” says Brenner in an oddly defensive way.  “All very mannerly” continues Brenner, as if he would normally expect Downes to have head-butted him.  The game resumes with a “corner-kick to Ipswich in the rain” as if somehow it’s not raining on all parts of the pitch, or it’s optional whether it is taken in the rain or not.   In a slightly bizarre turn of events the referee then finds that the goal net at the North Stand end is not properly attached to the goal post; “He needs help from a handyman” explains Brenner.

Former Town player Grant Ward replaces Kenneth Dougall, who sounds like a composite of 1960’s and 70’s BBC newsreaders and Luke Garbutt, who also played for Town (on loan), replaces James Husband who was called Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s and played for Everton and Luton Town.  These are Blackpool’s fourth and fifth substitutions of the game and it’s all too much for Mick “It’s hard to keep up with all this” he says playing the old duffer card, which Brenner might tell us he is entitled to do.

With seven minutes of normal time remaining Freddie Sears has a glorious chance for a third goal deflected away for a corner and then Mr Busby the referee has to be substituted because of  what looks like a pulled hamstring. “I think all the substitutions have been made” quips Mick, sharp as a tack.   The upshot is seven minutes of added on time, which passes without incident as Town continue to exercise control over the game.  Asked by Brenner for his verdict at the final whistle Mick is clearly not getting carried away, as good a performance as this was, “A result that almost keeps us in touch” he says.   Personally, I think this has been the first time we’ve played like a proper, half-decent football team all season, with everyone playing in a position that suits them. I don’t expect us to lose another game.

Ipswich Town 2 Rochdale 0

It’s a grey, blustery Saturday in late September and despite the miserable nature of the weather there is a sense of anticipation and excitement.  Obviously, the normal, “traditional” Saturday of dossing about a bit, catching the train, sinking a couple of pints of fine ale and strolling on down to Portman Road is not going to happen today because of the continuing pandemic, but a fresh, new reality has taken root and after a morning of tidying my garage, involving putting up hooks and brackets on which to hang my garden furniture and my bicycle, there is now the prospect of logging onto the ifollow to watch the mighty Ipswich Town.  Today there is added excitement too as today is the first ever appearance at Portman Road of one of the Football League’s most resilient, remarkable and in most people’s eyes unsuccessful clubs, Rochdale AFC.  Rochdale’s survival as a professional football club for almost a century is simultaneously a great achievement and a story of fantastic under-achievement. No other club can boast thirty-six consecutive seasons in the fourth division or a home crowd for a league game of just 450.   That Rochdale have spent eight of the past ten seasons in the third division nevertheless makes them one of Britain’s most successful clubs, relatively speaking. As if that is not enough, Rochdale has a marvellous Victorian town hall, something it has in common with Ipswich, but it was also the birthplace of the Co-op, and Gracie Fields.

After a somewhat peculiar ‘lunch’ consisting of the remains of a bag of Gujerati Mix and leftover home-made chips that my wife Paulene didn’t want, I enjoy a pre-match ‘pint’ (actually 500 millilitres) of Adnams Ease-Up IPA (two for £3 from Waitrose) whilst logging-on to the i-follow.   Amazingly, I find the ifollow very easy to set up, connecting my laptop to the television with what I can only describe as aplomb.  The only thing I have difficulty with is getting the picture to fill the whole screen because the ‘expand’ icon is hidden beneath an icon that asks me if I want to chat about the EFL;  I can think of few things I  would want to do less.  I eventually discover that by scrolling down the page the ‘expand’ icon can be uncovered. Ready for the match I take up residence in an Ikea Poang chair, with my beer carefully positioned on an occasional table next to me, just an arm’s length away.

As an experiment, today I am not wearing the blue, Ipswich Town branded ‘button neck t-shirt’ that I wore when listening to last week’s win at Bristol Rovers, when watching the game versus Wigan Athletic the week before and when listening to the game versus Bristol Rovers in the League Cup the week before that.  Today I am wearing a grey Euro 2016 t-shirt that I bought at a Carrefour hypermarket in Tinqueux just outside Reims (pronounced ‘Rance’).  I need to know if Town can win on their own, or whether my ‘button neck t-shirt’ has special powers. 

The game has not yet started and I and my fellow viewers of the ifollow are treated to a Radio Suffolk preview of Needham Market’s match versus Stratford, the reporter Nick Garnham delivers his report in the style of a 10 year old who has been asked to read out loud in class; he’s very good.  The radio broadcast returns to Portman Road and resident Radio Suffolk commentator Brenner Woolley provides a precis of Town’s season so far before his side-kick and appointed expert Mick Mills magnanimously announces that “Most of what you’ve said I totally agree with”.  Undeterred, Brenner goes on to describe the two teams’ kits; I agree totally with most of what he says but disagree with his description of Rochdale’s shirts as ‘bottle green’, they’re a shade too light for that.  The Dulux colour chart has a shade called ‘Seaweed’ which is a much better match.

On the ifollow a caption appears that shows today’s teams and I am impressed with the use of the correct diacritical marks above the a, s and y of Tomas Holy’s name, something that our own match programme doesn’t even bother to do,  and nor do I because I can’t find them on my keyboard.   Returning from the caption to the pictures of Portman Road I feel a bit seasick due to some wobbly camera work but I am soon settled by the calming voice of Mick Mills, although he does then proceed to conjure some disturbing images when, talking about the advantages of a settled team, he claims that Sir Alex Ferguson would only ever “…mess about with three or four players”.   It’s not an accusation I’d heard levelled at Sir Alex before.

The match begins with the shrill whistle of today’s referee Mr John Busby and Rochdale kick off towards the North Stand in their seaweed green shirts with black stripes, black shorts and socks.  I am peering at my tv screen looking for a fat bloke with a Teddy Boy haircut after Brenner tells us that Paul McShane is playing at the back for Rochdale, but I then remember Rochdale’s penchant for players with famous names; well, Paul Weller played five games for them back in 2004 anyway. 

Town are very quickly looking good and only Freddie Sears and Jon Nolan deny them an early lead as they contrive to balls-up a two versus two breakaway in the seventh minute.  Mick Mills is almost as quick to tell us how Town are much the better team and are dominating, before Rochdale naturally enough then begin to pass the ball around with nonchalance and Chambers and Nsiala create a complete mess at the back just two minutes later. It’s Rochdale’s Aaron Morley who then has the first shot on goal, if it can be described as such.

Brenner tells us more than once than the rain is hammering down at Portman Road but we don’t need him to tell us that actually this isn’t a bad match at all.  Oliver Hawkins has a header saved, hits a post with a shot on the turn and then has another header cleared off the goal line.  Brenner tells us again that the rain is hammering on the roof of the stand and this time I’m glad he does because it sounds like applause, as well it might.   Brenner and Mick are almost purring over some the play but at the same time talking pretty sensibly in plain English. “Dozzell, using his quick feet there” says Brenner raising the question in my mind at least of whether a player’s feet can be quicker than his legs, and how, if they could, this would genuinely bamboozle the opposition.  “They’re decent; decent footballers, Rochdale” says Mick with a third of the match gone and sounding rather surprised. 

The match continues to be worth the entrance money, if not a tenner to watch it on the ifollow, and Brenner’s detailed radio commentary is adding to my enjoyment , especially when he introduces the use of compass-points into his description pinpointing possession in one instance to “…just North of the centre circle”.  I can only think the lashing of rain and wind has stirred up some memory of the shipping forecast in his BBC radio presenter consciousness.   Speaking of the wind and rain I’m quite pleased to see that my seat in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand is being kept dry by having a George Cross endorsed with the name of someone called Aaron draped over it.  It leads me to muse on whether I’d be so happy to have my seat sub-let to a cardboard cut-out of a complete stranger, I’m not sure I would.

Half-time is approaching and still the game flows like proper football should;  and even though a number of simple looking passes are going astray the emphasis is on attacking football. “We had bodies in the box, we had Luke Chambers in there” explains Mick, as if to say “even Luke Chambers”.  The Rochdale goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu saves a 20 yard shot from Jon Nolan, Luke Chambers “…lumps the ball into touch” and a Freddie Sears cross is cleared off the goal line before notice of a minute of added on time is given and then half-time arrives.

With peripheral vision I glimpse an endorsement of the EFL by Screwfix as I leave the room and head for the kitchen to put the kettle on and seek out a Nature Valley peanut and chocolate protein bar and endeavour to create an authentic half-time experience in my own home.  I return in time to see the match stats paraded before me on the screen at least three times along with a request to report the fact to the piracy@efl.com e-mail address if I am watching this in “commercial premises”.  I wait for another caption inviting me to report the charging of a tenner to watch EFL football on the telly to the daylightrobbery@efl.com e-mail address; oddly it doesn’t appear.

Fifteen minutes pass in the blink of an eye and the football returns, but not before I enjoy the avant garde views of wanderings of the camera man and lingering shots of Paul Lambert returning to the dugout in his large, rather shapeless, black Adidas coat, yet another addition to his burgeoning match day wardrobe since last season.  I can only think that in PL’s five year contract wily Marcus Evans included an ‘all you can wear from Planet Blue’ clause in lieu of hard cash.

Addressing the important issues of the day Brenner pumps Mick for his views on football without crowds and Mick is forthright, telling us in no uncertain terms that “This is not a proper game of football”; I can’t disagree, as much as I try to pretend that it is by creating my own ‘going to the match’ fantasy world by buying a programme on-line, drinking a pre-match beer and a half-time cuppa and singing to my wife that she’s a “dirty northern bastard” (she’s actually from Portsmouth).

Mick continues in honest vein suggesting that “Freddie might be losing his job soon” as another of Freddie’s free-kicks fails to make the opposition goalkeeper do anything more than raise his eyebrows.  Freddie’s free-kick shortcomings are soon forgotten however as just a few minutes later a good passing move down the left hand side of the pitch ends with Teddy Bishop scoring at the far post.  “Yay” I shout, not standing up and sending my Poang chair skittering backwards on the tiled floor as I look for someone northern looking to make obscene hand gestures towards.   “One-nil to the Tractor Boys” I don’t sing to the tune of the Village People’s ‘Go West.’

With the game re-started after the hiatus of the goal Brenner lapses in to a momentary bout of  footballese as he tells us that Gavin Bazunu “…puts his foot through the ball”, before more helpfully adding to the mental picture of the afternoon by sketching in Paul Lambert stood in his black coat with his hands in his pockets. The Town then make another decent passing move down the left hand side of the pitch and this time Gwion Edwards scores and Town lead 2-0.  “We’ve got hold of the three points” says Mick, causing Town fans everywhere to gasp at his most blatant, brazen tempting of fate.  Here is me thinking that a two-nil lead is the worst thing to have in football, should we go for a third goal and risk conceding or sit-back and risk conceding, letting the opposition back into the game either way.   Is it such confidence that separates Mick as a former captain of Ipswich and England from us punters? 

Twenty-five minutes of normal time remain and Jon Nolan is booked for a pointless trip of an opponent, but somehow Brenner hasn’t noticed it and seeing Mr Busby with his arm raised thinks it’s Hawkins who has been shown the yellow card by BT’s misspelt mascot’s namesake.  What could he have been doing to have missed that I wonder, checking his compass; practising putting his foot through a ball? 

The remaining minutes are illuminated by a wonderful pirouette with the ball at his feet by Gwion Edwards (it can only be a matter of time before someone says he’s a Welsh wizard), a full card of substitutions and more rain “hammering” on the roof.   Substitute Flynn Downes seems to want to pick a fight with Rochdale’s Matty Lund just seconds after entering the field of play and Mick is quick to call him out.  Downes is showing himself to be the idiot that we saw before when he was sent off in a pre-season friendly at Cambridge.  Fifteen minutes now remain and Brenner tells us that it is “…good Jack Lankester is involved again, and playing football”. It would have been a tragedy if he’d returned from injury only to play water polo.  With his predilection for short vowels Brenner can’t help not mispronouncing Lankester as Lancaster; I shall be writing to the radio equivalent of Points of View. Bloody northerners.

As full-time approaches Town become more and more sluggish and sit back, it’s not something I enjoy watching. As if echoing the drop in performance on the pitch, the sound quality of the broadcast suddenly drops too, with Brenner occasionally taking on the accent of a Dalek, as happened towards the end of the Wigan Athletic game.   My mood is lightened however when in the 90th minute Rochdale’s Rathbone (sadly Oliver not Basil), volleys a shot against one of his own players; you can’t beat a bit of slapstick. 

A good 2-0 win is imminent and taking Mick’s counsel I am not worrying that the last flickering embers of the game see Town continuing to do the bare minimum.   But Brenner has to try and make the commentary interesting, although whilst trying to suggest the prospect of a Rochdale consolation, he shows that he’s mentally in the car on the way home too as he says “A little bit sloppy from Ipswich, what can Rotherham do?”  A little bit sloppy indeed Brenner. 

With five minutes of added-on time played the games ends and I reflect upon an afternoon in which I have learned that Ipswich can win without the help of my blue, button-neck ITFC branded t-shirt, although it doesn’t prove that the t-shirt doesn’t have special powers and could mean that my Euro 2016 t-shirt might also be capable of influencing results.  Oh ‘eck, as Gracie Fields might have said.

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.