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.

Ipswich Town 0 Fulham 2

I had not originally intended to go to this match; I had thought that the game between Colchester United and Football League ‘new boys’ Forest Green Rovers was a far more attractive prospect. Looking ahead at the fixtures I figured Ipswich would probably be beaten if not embarrassed by Fulham and Forest Green Rovers, as their name implies are rather interesting. FGR are based in the smallest settlement to ever have a team in the Football League (Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, population 5,800 in 2011), the chairman is a former new-age traveller turned sustainable energy entrepreneur and the pies at their home ground are intentionally meat-free. But no one would take my Ipswich ticket off my hands and I am still suffering from early season inertia, so I have no ticket for Colchester and I end up on the train to Ipswich once again.
The train is on time and a well-built woman with a brood of children of various ages rudely bustles on whilst other people try to get off. On the train an ageing couple sit silently and then change seats in Colchester without speaking; as if they were communicating by telepathy. A woman in her seventies with blonde hair (yeah, right) clutches a plastic drink bottle to her mouth like a small child. It’s a warm, still, almost sultry late August afternoon and I can feel my T-shirt sticking to me slightly as I lean back on the dark grey moquette of the train seat.
The train hurtles along the tracks at a fair tilt and arriving in Ipswich on time I head for the St Jude’s Tavern as usual, responding to the rare promise of good draught beer. Ipswich Town Football Club tells us that they serve real ale but sadly it always seems to be Greene King. Portman Road is still fairly quiet, but a few Fulham fans are here already waiting for the turnstiles to open; the stall selling old programmes is almost set-up, the burger vendors have their griddles heated and a couple of early diners sit on a low rail and fold foamy bread rolls into their mouths with ketchup tainted fingers.


At St Jude’s Tavern I sit alone today and so have bought a copy of the programme (£3.00) to read. I drink a pint of Gannet Mild (£3.40) and twenty minutes later a pint of Nethergate Five Rifles (£3.00); it’s still only twenty five past two so I throw caution to the wind and down a third pint; Lacon’s Legacy (£3.20). The programme is not very interesting, as ever, full of the usual platitudes and cliché. There is an article about the young player Tristan Nydam, which labours under the weird and meaningless title of “Tris and Shout”.36839260615_e37db216a2_o It takes me a few seconds to twig that this is an attempt at a pun based on the song title “Twist and Shout”. Within seconds I come up with my own vastly superior choice of pun title: “Tristan’s Handy”, which actually means something, clearly relates to the player’s name and raises the tone by referencing a work of Irish literature, with which Mick McCarthy as former manager of the Eire national team will surely be familiar (that’s Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne…just in case).
Leaving St Jude’s I make my way down Portman Road, following three gentlemen36668891822_90b2dbac4d_o who have the appearance of a Last of the Summer Wine tribute act. Inside the ground the public address system is playing Bon Jovi, I head for the toilet to drain my bladder, but there is no escape from the dreadful, anthemic, 1980’s hair-rock, which is possibly being fed in through the cistern. Now in my seat I feel doubly relieved as the strains of Bon Jovi recede, the teams enter the field to a particularly bloated rendition of ‘My Way’ (Bobby Robson’s favourite song apparently) and it’s time for the game to begin; it is two minutes past three, we’re late.
Fulham take control of the game with indecent haste, barely allowing Ipswich a kick-of the ball. The home crowd settle down into their accustomed quietude and predictably the Fulham fans ask through the medium of song “Is this a library”? In places it resembles a chapel of rest as the demographic for Town fans becomes increasingly top heavy with those who remember the good old days. In lieu of the parachute payments enjoyed by other clubs who make it into the Premier League for a season, ITFC could probably make up the shortfall by offering their own funeral service.
There is little to excite the home fans and a when the female linesman (lineswoman?) appears to miss the ball going out, she provokes ire, setting back the cause of feminism by a hundred years. A shot from a Fulham player hits a post and I dare to think that may be Fulham will continue to completely dominate but will never score. It is twenty five past three and I don’t think Ipswich have had the ball in the Fulham penalty area yet. 36005304804_15826af0a9_oThe Fulham goalkeeper wanders about to keep awake and in the manner of a grizzly bear, rubs his back on the pole that secures the goal net; he is wearing a vivid all red kit the colour of a nationalised, 1970’s Eastern Counties bus.
Half past three goes by and Ipswich have their first shot in the general, but not exact direction of the Fulham goal. Five or so minutes later however, a deep cross from the left is met by the head belonging to Fulham’s Neeskins Kabano and Fulham take the lead. I am disappointed, Ipswich have won their first four league games, I had hoped for better, but I cannot deny being impressed by a bloke with the name Neeskins Kabano. I cannot begrudge a goal scored by a man whose name brings together the very best of Dutch football from the 1970’s and a spicy, Polish pork sausage. All power to his elbow and other joints and limbs.
Puffed up with the sense of self-love that football crowds seem to develop when their team is winning, the Fulham fans start to chant “Super Fulham, Super Fulham FC” which36701521662_8193909c95_o is a bit confusing as it sounds as if there are two teams, ordinary common or garden Fulham FC and then another team called Super Fulham FC. Unimpressed by such boastfulnesss, Ipswich manage their first shot on target. Then, for a second time in the space of a few minutes the Fulham physio is called on to attend to their evidently rather needy number 10 after he blocks a shot Ipswich’s from Martyn Wagstaff (Waggy).
Half-time. I wander about beneath the stand eating a Traidcraft chewy cereal bar. I look up at a floodlight above the stand, I look out into Portman Road through the gates guarded by men in hi-vis; long gone are the more generous, less uptight days of getting in free at half-time. I look towards the players’ tunnel and a point beyond which a sign tells me I am not permitted. The sniffer dog and his handler walk in from Portman Road; the dog has perhaps had a recreational break involving local lamp posts. I see a girl who looks a bit like Adrian Rabiot of Paris St Germain, I decide it’s her nose that’s the similarity but he’s better looking.
The second half releases me from my aimlessness and I return to my seat. The game is soon lost however as Ipswich’s Polish goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski, and therefore the player most likely to be familiar with kabanos, makes a brilliant one-handed save, only for some other bloke in a white shirt and black shorts to score from the rebound. Bugger. Fulham are streets ahead of Ipswich, as they were when they played here last season, but I shall put this result down to the law of averages; Ipswich were unbeaten and Fulham had yet to win so it was bound to happen. There is little enjoyment to be had from now on knowing the inevitable fate of my team. The first defeat of the season is always hard to take because I always harbour the hope that one day they will go the whole season without losing. Arsenal have done it; Preston North End have done it; The New Saints of Oswestry Town and Llansantffraid have done it so why not Ipswich Town?
I enjoy an advertisement hoarding for Red7Marine the “The marine partner of choice”, even though I would probably choose Aqua Marina from Stingray and I derive some amusement from the reaction of Fulham’s number 9 who, after colliding with one of the safety gates as he slid off the pitch, seems to complain to the referee about its existence as if expecting that the edge of the pitch should stretch off into infinity rather than there being stands around it. The attendance of 16,844 is announced, with 1,236 being with Fulham. I muse on the apparent baldness of David McGoldrick and whether, if the comb-over was still socially acceptable, he would as a professional footballer follow the lead of Bobby Charlton. Fulham bring on their substitute striker Aboubakar Kamara who I saw score for SC Amiens last season at the marvellous and yet dilapidated Stade de la Licorne,36872899585_2f4f6bde2b_o when Amiens played Gazelec Ajaccio in French Ligue 2. Happily Aboubakar doesn’t score today and in fact he doesn’t look very good.
The final whistle is a relief. On balance 0-2 is quite a good score from Ipswich’s point of view. A bloke a few seats along from me reflects on a couple hours of his life having past that he won’t get back. Well we can all say that, even the Fulham fans and players. I learn that Colchester United beat Forest Green Rovers 5-1 and my afternoon is complete.