Ipswich Town 1 Cheltenham Town 1

In the final scenes of Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film ‘If’, the central character Mick Travis, played by Malcolm McDowell, and his nameless girlfriend launch a machine gun attack on the parents, teachers and governors at a school speech day.  The scene was filmed at Cheltenham College and it’s one of my favourite scenes in one of my favourite films; Wikipedia tells us that ‘If’ won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1969 and in 1999 the British Film Institute ranked it as the 12th greatest British film of all time.  As if that association with such a great film is not enough kudos for Cheltenham, it also has a football team that has never lost to Ipswich Town. Today Ipswich Town and Cheltenham Town meet at Portman Road for only the second time in recorded history.  I don’t know it yet, but later today I’m going to feel like Mick Travis.

In north Essex it has been a stupendously dull morning, both still and depressingly grey, like November days should be. It’s only when I approach Ipswich that a diffuse yellow light begins to filter through the grimness and then bright sunshine bursts from a clear blue sky like a metaphor for the end of the working week and the arrival of Saturday, heralding a match at Portman Road.  Before the game I visit my mother and we reminisce about all manner of things from years ago and she tells me how her grandfather, Sam Scarff, an agricultural labourer from Needham Market, enrolled with a friend for evening classes, joined the police and rose to the rank of inspector in the Met’ before retiring to become a game-keeper in Shotley; his friend became a police commissioner, and I thought social mobility was a 1960’s thing.

Leaving my mother with her memories, I drive across town and park up on Chantry. The streets are busy with people in football-supporting attire. I walk across the wet grass of Gippeswyk Park and marvel at how lush and green the turf now is compared to how dried up, brown and withered it was on the first day of the football season three months ago.  In Sir Alf Ramsey way I attempt to buy a programme (£3.50) in the modern cashless manner, but the technology isn’t working today.  I laugh and hand over a five pound note to the somewhat miserable and overweight looking youth in the programme booth.  The Arbor House, formerly known as The Arboretum, is busy with pre-match drinkers, but I am served quite quickly and order a pint of Nethergate Complete Howler (£4.00). I head for the garden where Mick is already sat at a table with a pint of a dark beer from the Grain brewery which he’s not very keen on, I take a sip and agree that it’s not exactly moreish, but then the Grain brewery is located in Norfolk, albeit with an IP postcode.  Before long Roly joins us and proceeds to dominate the conversation, mainly because he seems to have the ability to talk without drawing breath, which means a polite person like me can’t get a word in edgeways, not that I have much to say.  We, by which I mean mostly Roly, talk of local council chief executives, Roly’s five-year-old daughter Lottie, primary schools on the Essex Suffolk border and the performances of Town player Dom Ball.  Between twenty-five and twenty to three we leave via the back gate of the beer garden and head for Portman Road.  I bid Mick and Roly farewell by the turnstiles to the Magnus Stand, formerly known as the West Stand.  We speak briefly of when we will next meet; it will be for the five o’clock kick off v Buxton in the FA Cup on Sunday 26th November.   I won’t be going to the mid-week game versus Portsmouth as I am boycotting the Papa John’s EFL Trophy, not because I have anything against oily, takeaway pizza, but because I think the competition has been debased by the inclusion of Evil Premier League under-21 teams.  I am particularly looking forward to not going to Wembley should Town make it to the final, when I will blow a metaphorical raspberry to all those people who believe that anyone boycotting the competition will automatically abandon their principles if Town get to the final.  Such beliefs help explain why we have a Tory government.

Most unusually, today there is a queue at the turnstiles for the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand which are accessed from Constantine Road, but quite soon an extra turnstile opens up (No61) and a cheerful man presents bar codes to a screen and I pass through the portal to another world.  That pint of beer has already found its way to the exit and from the gents beneath the stand I hear stadium announcer Stephen Foster reading the team line-ups from the scoreboard in his best local radio DJ voice.  I arrive at my seat just as a minute’s silence begins for Armistice day, although that was actually yesterday.  Oddly, the Football Association have decided not to cancel the fixtures today as they did when they felt they couldn’t trust football crowds to observe a minute’s silence for the death of Queen Elizabeth back in September.  The minute’s silence is of course observed perfectly. Stephen Foster reads from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem ‘For the Fallen’ and the last post is played exquisitely, even if it does slightly spoil the solemnity and dignity of the moment to then be told by Stephen Foster that Jon Holden who played it is a member of the Co-op East of England Brass Band.  It’s probably just me, but I can’t help sniggering a little at any mention of the Co-op.

After a fly-past by a couple of Army helicopters, and a brief burst of ‘Hey Jude’, the game begins with Town getting first go with the ball and kicking towards me , Pat from Clacton, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Fiona and the man from Stowmarket.  Town are thankfully back to wearing their blue shirts and white shorts after the all-black aberration against Derby, whilst Cheltenham Town are wearing red shirts and shorts with their ruddiness off-set by white socks and a white pin-stripe on their shirt fronts.  Quickly, Portman Road sounds in good voice as the altered version of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ in which she eternally fights Norwich on Boxing Day rings around the ground.  On the touchline, Town manager Kieran McKenna is looking stylish, if a little drab in a black jacket and trousers with a plain jumper, which I at first think is beige but then think is grey; perhaps it’s taupe?

From the start Ipswich dominate and it feels as if everyone, from the supporters to the players really wants to win this match. We all remember the life-denying, spirit crushing goalless draw against Cheltenham from last season and that’s our inspiration to see Town give these upstarts, better known for their poncey Regency spa a sound thrashing.   Crosses rain into the Cheltenham penalty area and although one from Conor Chaplin goes a bit off course and strikes Wes Burns in the throat Sam Morsy soon has the first shot on goal and then from a corner Luke Woolfenden hooks the ball into the goal from close range and Town lead 1-0.  Woolfenden runs off sucking his thumb with the ball up his jumper and ever-present Phil mentions something about the birth of wolf cubs; I suggest he has simply discovered the joy of sucking his thumb. 

More corners and crosses follow and I chant “Come On You Blues” and so does Phil, but no one else does.  “Two of you singing, there’s only two of you singing” announces Pat from Clacton, sort of singing herself, which is ironic.  Janoi Donacien strides forward into a rare bit of space and pulls the ball back to Marcus Harness; the Cheltenham defence is rent open like a tin of corned beef on which the key has broken half-way round and it’s been necessary to open both ends with a tin-opener to get the meat out. Harness must score, but somehow the ball strikes the under-side of the cross bar as if deflected away from the goal net by some invisible force…either that or Harness made a hash of it.

There are more corners to Ipswich, loads of them, and Phil and I keep chanting “Come On You Blues” vainly hoping someone will join in with us. We change to the simpler “Come on Ipswich, Come on Ipswich” but the occupants of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand aren’t moved.  I think to myself that I might as well be singing in French and so I do “Allez les Bleus, Allez les Bleus” I chant; Fiona says I’ve gone too far. On the pitch Janoi Donacien is hurt and is replaced by Kane Vincent-Young and the ball skims of the top of Cheltenham number six Lewis Freestone’s head as if he was a man who had applied too much brylcreem to his hair.  Another cross and Leif Davis precisely places a carefully controlled header over the Cheltenham cross bar.  Within a minute Cheltenham equalise as Ryan Broom sweeps forward and shoots at Christian Walton who somehow cannot stop the ball squirming around or under or through him onto the goal.  It might have been the brylcreem on the ball.  It will prove to be Cheltenham’s only real shot of the game and up in the Cobbold stand a knot of about twenty excited youths jump around and wave their arms about like bookies on a race course or idiots trying to fly.

Disappointing as that equaliser is, Town press on, although not quite as well as before.  When the Cheltenham goalkeeper parries a low Marcus Harness cross out to Cameron Humphreys, somehow the ball comes straight back to him.  Two minutes of added on time are announced very noisily by Stephen Foster, as if he’d turned the PA system up to eleven. “Speak Up” says Pat from Clacton.   I applaud Town off the field with the half-time whistle and go and talk with Ray, his son Michael and grandson Harrison.  I ask Harrison if he has got the new Robyn Hitchcock album ‘Shufflemania’ yet, he says he may get it for Christmas as he looks at his dad.

The match resumes at six minutes past four and a chorus of ‘Blue and White Army’ briefly rolls around the stands, not exactly like thunder. On the stroke of the 53rd minute the crowd rises for a minute’s applause in memory of Supporters’ Club Chairman Martin Swallow who died at the end of October.  A lone seagull floats above the pitch; no doubt someone would think it poignant. 

With Cheltenham confined to their half of the pitch due to constant Ipswich possession, this is the sort of game where every moment lost through a Cheltenham player sitting on the grass or receiving treatment is going to be attributed to time-wasting, and so it proves. Referee Mr Eltringham, a man with ‘ten to two’ feet, books the Cheltenham goalkeeper as a warning shot to his team-mates in this regard and in all fairness, they do not break the game up as much as they did in the goalless game last season, but it’s not enough to stop the bloke behind me from saying “He’s gotta be one of the worst fuckin’ refs we’ve ‘ad down here”.   When Cheltenham players do receive treatment their physio runs on with a huge bag and what looks like a small surf board; with a blonde wig and high cut one piece swim suit he could have doubled for Pamela Anderson in Baywatch. 

“Over and in” says Pat from Clacton in the time-honoured fashion, but it never happens. Marcus Harness heads carefully past the post in the same way Leif Davis headed over the bar in the first half, Wes Burns and Marcus Harness are replaced by Kayden Jackson and Kyle Edwards, but it makes little difference.  Chances come and inevitably go as if there is no possible way to get a ball across the line between the two goalposts.  The crowd is announced as 25,400 including 175 from Cheltenham; it’s the smallest away following at any Ipswich match this season; so more credit to those who did bother.  “Here for Cheltenham, you’re only here for the Cheltenham” they sing which I guess they are, and on the Clacton supporters coach Chris wins the prize with his guess of 25,444; Pat is disappointed that so few pet animals have been attributed guesses this week.

With time slipping away, the gloom of the late autumn evening descends along with a seasonal mist which softly shrouds the floodlights. “There’s nothing wrong with, there’s nothing wrong with you” chant the North Stand appropriating some Verdi opera as another Cheltenham player takes a breather by sitting on the turf.  The final minute arrives and Panutche Camara replaces Conor Chaplin. There will be at least seven minutes of additional time which is time enough for Camara to strike a shot against the inside of a goal post; again, the ball of course stays out of the goal rather than deflecting into it. All too soon the final whistle is blown and for a second time this year Cheltenham Town have clung on to a point at Portman Road with resolute defending and huge dollops of luck.  With defending like this and the ball having such an aversion to crossing their goal line, it seems odd that Cheltenham Town have ever lost a match.

“Frustrating” says the man from Stowmarket as he edges past me to the exit “Yes, but we’ve seen it all before, just a few weeks ago” I reply, re-living the pain of the match versus Lincoln.  But my comment hides my disappointment and beneath my reasonable exterior irrational thoughts and questions swirl in a maelstrom of post-match angst and anger; how can Ipswich Town be so much better than the opposition but still not beat them? Is Ipswich Town somehow cursed?  Where is there a high roof from which a sniper could shoot freely and indiscriminately?

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.

Newmarket Town 1 Thetford Town 1

The train journey from Ipswich to Newmarket (£10.50 return with a Goldcard) takes 58 minutes to cover a distance of about 65 kilometres.  That may seem a little slow, but the train does stop at Needham Market, Stowmarket, Elmswell, Thurston , Bury St Edmunds and Kennet before arriving in the town that is the centre of the British horse racing industry, home to about 21,000 people and 3,500 horses.

Despite a little mist it’s a bright February day beneath a cloudless blue sky, the unseasonal warmth has resulted in blossom appearing on some trees.   I am in good time for the 13.20 train to Cambridge which is already waiting on platform 4B; I board through the sliding doors. I immediately feel as though I have inadvertently stepped into someone’s dining room.  At the table to my right a family of four has their picnic lunch spread out before them; sandwiches and baking foil everywhere.  They look up at me as if to say “Don’t you knock before you enter a room?”, but they can’t say it because their mouths are full of sandwich; their jaws churning like tumble driers.  I pause to decide if I want to sit at the table opposite them; I don’t think I do, they’ve stared me out; I turn left.  There are plenty of empty seats and I find another vacant table.

Behind me I hear a sound like a vacuum cleaner; it is a vacuum cleaner and it is strapped to the back of a man in a blue tabard; he looks like a one man tribute to Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd (Ghostbusters).  I am impressed that the train is being cleaned between journeys; on his back above the vacuum cleaner it says “Presentation Team”, which sounds much nicer than plain old ‘cleaner’.

I sit and enjoy the architecture of the Victorian station platform briefly before the train departs, on time. Soon out of Ipswich the train speeds through the rolling Suffolk countryside of isolated farmhouses and medieval church towers.  A warm but slightly condescending female voice announces the station stops. The floodlights of Bloomfields the home of Needham Market FC can be seen if you know where to look and the track passes next to Stowmarket Town’s Green Meadow.   Munton’s of Stowmarket announce on a large sign that they are “passionate about malt”.  There are misty silhouettes of church and cathedral towers in Bury St Edmunds and a black cat crosses the Ipswich bound track; at Thurston there are chimneys like candy twists and at Kennet a metal silo that looks like a painting by Charles Sheeler.  The landscape changes towards Newmarket;  rows of pine trees and broader, flatter downland; the chalk beneath pokes through where the soil is tilled and forms white cliffs in railway cuttings.  Surprisingly, the final approach to Newmarket is through a long tunnel.

The train is still on-time as it arrives in Newmarket, this is as far west as it’s possible to go without not being in Suffolk anymore, but Newmarket station is a massive disappointment.  There is no sense of arrival here, it’s no more than a platform and a couple of metal bus shelters.  It is hard to believe that such a wealthy, internationally known town as Newmarket should have a railway station which is, to be blunt, so crap. Apparently the original Victorian station was demolished in 1981 despite being a listed building.

Putting the squalor of British public transport behind me I make the short walk down Green Road over The Avenue and up Granary Road where I turn right through a kissing gate and across the railway line into Cricket Field Lane, the home of Newmarket Town.  I am somewhat amazed that it is still possible to walk across the railway track as increasingly the population is treated like idiots incapable of working out how not to suffer grievous injury or death from stepping out in front of moving trains.  However, a poll conducted in 2016 did reveal that 52% of people who voted were stupid.

There is no queue to get into what I imagine Bloorie.com pay to have called the Bloorie.com Stadium.  Two men have squeezed themselves into the blue metal-clad turnstile booth; I ask for “one and a programme” and hold out a twenty pound note.  The smaller and older of the two men pauses, I wonder if perhaps he hasn’t got enough change, but no, he has; he eventually asks for £8 (£7 entrance +£1 programme); he was just adding up.  His mind had “gone blank for a moment” he tells me. As the smaller man hands me my change the larger man invites me to buy two strips of tickets for the club 50/50 draw, which he explains will see half the money collected becoming prize money and the other half going to the club.  I tell him I understand and buy two strips (£2); there didn’t seem to be an option to buy just one.  My investment will come to nothing; I’ll have to write it off as a charitable contribution.

Inside the ‘stadium’ I head for the tea bar where I purchase a bacon roll (£2.50) and a cup of tea (£1.00).  As I wait for my bacon roll I watch the teams and referees warm up on the sun-lit synthetic pitch, which looks extremely neat even if it is accompanied by a rash of prohibiting signage; this is its first season.  My bacon roll is ready and I sit in the stand to eat it and to avoid having to juggle a paper plate, napkin, bacon roll and cup of tea.  The bacon is crispy.  Bland, forgettable, 21st century pop music plays over the public address system.  Today, Newmarket Town who are ninth in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier league with thirty-seven points from twenty six games played face Thetford Town who are fifteenth with eight fewer points from the same number of matches played.

In time everyone disappears back inside the dressing rooms only to re-emerge as the three o’clock kick-off approaches.  The referee’s assistants are first to appear, posing in the doorway, before the away team and then the Newmarket team each form a queue and at the referee’s signal march onto the pitch to line up in front of the main stand as if for inspection and to greet one another with multiple handshakes.  Meanwhile, a short man in a blue cap uses a radio mike to introduce the match and announce the teams, and in a possible homage to John Motson he adds all sorts of extraneous detail, such as the fact that Newmarket’s Jacob Partridge is expecting his first child later this year; he’s not showing.

Thetford Town begin the game kicking towards the miserable little railway station whilst Newmarket Town play in the direction of a row of pollarded trees and the Gallops which are visible far off in the distance. 

Thetford wear all claret with odd looking sky blue rings round their shoulders, whilst Newmarket sport yellow shirts with blue shorts and blue and yellow hooped socks. I particularly like Newmarket’s socks and it is no wonder that there is an advertisement for a supplier of sock tape on the fence at the side if the pitch.  Electrical tape is good enough for most, but hooped socks deserve something special.

The game begins with the ball being played back to Thetford’s number five Jonathan Carver who hoofs it forward unceremoniously. The Newmarket goalkeeper Will Viner boots it back and it’s Carver who heads it back again, fifteen love.  The most difficult thing in football sometimes is knowing what to do with the ball from the kick-off.  Happily the game settles down into a more entertaining series of passes and moves.  Newmarket are the first to ‘get the ball down’ but soon Thetford get the idea too; it would be a shame not to make use of the flat, true surface of the synthetic pitch over which the ball almost seems to whisper as it rolls.  Newmarket earn the game’s first corner but Thetford claim the first booking as Newmarket’s Jack Whiting is clattered to the floor.  “Ref, he’s fucking injured” cries Newmarket’s goalkeeper Alex Archer helpfully as the game at first carries on.  When referee Mr Brian O’Sullivan (not a relative of deceased racing commentator Peter O’Sullevan) awards a free-kick to Thetford’s number nine Volter Rocha, Archer who is very ‘gobby’ for a man dressed from head to toe in salmon pink calls out “ He fuckin’ slipped” . 

At the other end the more soberly dressed (all grey) Thetford ‘keeper is equally vocal but restricts his advice to his own team.  “Win it, win it” he shouts and “Left shoulder Steedy;  Elliott, left shoulder” .  Meanwhile from the touchline the advice is a more positive sounding “In the hole”.  Just before twenty past three Thetford hit a post and five minutes later the impressive Volter Rocha hits a shot onto the cross-bar and the equally impressive number two Sam Bond heads in the re-bound to give Thetford the lead to cheers from the main stand.

In front of me a group of lads watch keenly. “Go on boy wonder” says one as Newmarket’s Jack Whiting pushes forward. “ That number nine rolled his ankle” says another “ Well he looks okay” is the reply.  “Yeah, but he has rolled his ankle”.  Half-time is approaching and the bespectacled linesman whose glasses make him look a little like Kevin Costner’s character in the film JFK stifles a yawn.

With the referee’s whistle I head for the bar.  I check on the half-time scores; Ipswich are winning away from home; excellent!  I order a half of Lacon’s Pale Ale (£1.70) to cautiously celebrate a job half done.  The beer is much too cold and fizzy but it has that fashionable, light, hoppy flavour. Once the rush has died down I ask the barman what has happened at Newmarket that the place now looks so much better than it did when I was last here, probably in 2014 or 2015.  Back then it looked like the National Trust might want to preserve it as an example of a slightly shabby Step Five football ground from the 1980’s.  He tells me that they sold the land behind the clubhouse for housing, which funded the synthetic pitch which is now hired out every night; this week Cambridge United have used it every day for their soccer school.  Meanwhile the club’s guests and visiting officials enjoy plates of sandwiches and fancy-cakes in a room to the side of the bar.  I look at the programme, a  glossy publication full of adverts, but with potted club histories, league tables, results and fixtures too, so a useful programme all the same; and it’s good to see which local companies help support the club.  I very much like that Tattersalls advertise their sales calendar and wonder how many of the crowd here today will be looking to buy a filly or may be a two year old at the next sale.

The second half begins promptly at four o’clock, which is good because I don’t want to miss my train at eight minutes past five.  “Come on Jockeys” shouts a large man from close to the smoking area “Come on Jocks” echoes another man.  The first action of the half sees the Newmarket goalkeeper slice the ball high over the clubhouse and out of the ground. “There goes another thirty quid” says someone.  I wander round to watch from between the dugouts. 

The two Newmarket coaches kitted out in matching blue tracksuits stand conspiratorially together.  “Come and fuckin’ get it” shouts one of them at the ‘keeper after Thetford put in a cross. “ He was behind him” shouts the ‘keeper in his own defence. “Fuck off” replies the coach.

Thetford look like they might score again and their good play belies their relatively low position in the league table; perhaps they need to play on a synthetic surface every week.  The afternoon wears on and the sun sinks lower in the sky casting long shadows of the trees behind the Thetford goal down the length of the pitch.  Spectators enjoying the warmth of the sunshine have to shield their eyes, but it’s very cool in the shade.  Substitutions are made and the man in the blue cap announces them as best he can.  “Number 17 is coming on” he tells us “… but I haven’t got a number seventeen on my teamsheet”.  Whoever number 17 is he’s got a powerful shot and he soon elicits a spectacular save from Newmarket’s Archer who because of his pink kit really does ‘leap like a salmon’.

Up in the stand Thetford supporters are encouraging their team. “On your bike ‘arry, skin ‘im son” is the advice to the alliteratively named number eleven Harry Hutt.  But Thetford fail to score again and as the game enters its last ten minutes Newmarket begin to keep the ball a bit more to themselves.   At five thirty-six an angled free-kick into the Thetford penalty area is met with a deft, flicked header from substitute and player manager, Michael Shinn.  The ball enters the top left hand corner of the goal as great goals often do.  Shinn may have one of fuller figures on the pitch today but his is a fine goal and Shinn is a fine name for a footballer, although not quite as good as that of the Newmarket number two Blake Kicks, whose surname is worthy of the Happy Families card game; up alongside Mr Bun the baker, Mr Bones the butcher and Mr Pots the painter, meet Mr Kicks the footballer.

Thetford make a final substitution, but don’t hold up the numbers to show who it is and the man in the blue cap announces “Looks like we’ve given up on the boards, so I haven’t a clue who’s come on”.  A little while later as the final whistle blows and the man in the blue cap goes to remind us all of the final score, his microphone stops working .  The final score is one-all, perhaps my least favourite score line, especially when the opposition equalises in injury time as I learn Wigan Athletic have done in their game against Ipswich.

With the sun now setting behind me I head back towards the turnstile and Cricket Field Road and reflect on what has been an entertaining match.  I like the synthetic pitch and that it doesn’t smell weirdly of rubber like others I’ve seen, in fact I don’t think it smelt at all.  This has to be the way forward for clubs like Newmarket Town, along with hooped socks.  Upwards and onwards, as I said to the barman.

Ipswich Town 1 Norwich City 1

I received a text at a quarter past six this morning from my friend Mick who was at work but, in what was presumably an idle moment, had decided to let me know that he was watching assorted vehicles setting off from Suffolk Police headquarters heading, he assumed, for the match at Portman Road today. He asked me to give Town a shout on his behalf and predicted a draw. I tried to sleep on for another hour or so after reading the text but with only partial success. Thanks Mick.
Today should be one of the highlights of the football season, one of the most exciting games, the game with the biggest crowd and the best atmosphere; the one most like a professional football match should be. But the portents are not good; there are no trains from Colchester direction, only replacement buses. Far worse than that it’s Sunday and kick-off is at twelve o’clock, noon. The relevant authorities and ‘stakeholders’ have made a ‘risk assessment’ and decreed that there is a risk of football supporters enjoying the event too much if it takes place on a Saturday afternoon at 3 pm when football matches should be played and so Sunday lunchtime has been chosen as the time when the game should take place. That last time Ipswich played Norwich on a Saturday afternoon was probably in the last century; I tried to look it up on the interweb, but gave up and may be the records have been deleted to deter dissenters and give the impression things have always been like this; but I remember the 1970’s so they won’t silence me!
Moving on, I drive to Ipswich because life is too short to consider rail replacement bus services an option and I park up on Chantry, that spaciously laid out estate of public housing from the time when it wasn’t seditious to place need above profit. It’s a pleasant walk down through Gippeswyk Park beneath a blue sky as I strive to find pleasure in otherwise desperate circumstances. In Ranelagh Road I pass two drunken Norwich City supporters.


I cross the Sir Bobby Robson bridge for which the planners of Ipswich Borough Council must be congratulated, for it was they who got it built by the developers of the old Reavell’s factory site, which incidentally provided some of the locations for the 1960 film the Angry Silence starring Richard Attenborough. From the bridge I can see four cormorants which are basking on the concrete weir. I imagine them as the lucky four cormorants of Ipswich, harbingers of doom to those from north of the River Waveney. In Constantine Road I find evidence of horses having littered the road and wonder why dog owners have to clear up their animal’s excrement but horse owners don’t. I have never seen a police dog defecate in the street but wonder if their handlers nevertheless carry little plastic bags, just in case.


Perturbed I turn into the Fanzone just for something to fill the time until it is time for the game to begin. There is a band playing out of the side of a shipping container in the Fanzone, they are playing some decent tunes including an ITFC version of the Ramones’ Blitzkreig Bop. People may be listening but they are not moving to the music, which is a shame. I feel an urge to show them what to do, but heck I’m fifty-eight and wouldn’t want to listen to the game on the radio in the back of an ambulance.

In the Fanzone I meet ‘Mac’ a woman who will not thank me for saying she is really called Maxine. She played for Ipswich Town Women’s Football Club back in the 1990’s, in the days before Ipswich Town took much of an interest in women’s football. Mac, who incidentally is a triplet, lives in Needham Market; she loves football and Ipswich Town, she is a lifelong fan and she tells me how the club told her she had to give a week’s notice if she wanted to watch the team train and then when she wrote and asked they said no. I often don’t like Ipswich Town Football Club much.
It’s beautifully warm, even hot lounging on the plastic turf of the Fanzone, but I resist any temptation to buy a drink because all that is on offer is Greene King East Coast IPA, which whilst fashionably hoppy will be fizzy, chilled and will make me belch like a dyspeptic Sperm whale. At length I leave the Fanzone thinking “Hey ho, let’s go” to myself and so that I can avoid seeing any more Norwich supporters until inside the stadium I head for the turnstiles at the west end of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, where appropriately I find OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAturnstiles 59 and 60 as well as turnstiles 61 and 62, recalling the seasons in which Sir Alf managed Town to consecutive Division Two and League Championship titles. I enter through turnstile 62. By the Constantine Road gates I meet Ray and his wife Ros who are waiting for their son and grandson, who are held up in traffic.
Inside, the ground looks close to full with the only vacant seats largely being to the back of the stands, mostly those from which the view is partly obscured by steel stanchions. As usual, this ‘derby’ match is not a sell-out; I expect all those Ipswich puritans have had to go to church. It is nevertheless strange to find the seats all around mine to be occupied and I wonder what these people usually do on Saturdays when Town are at home; I’m sure they’re not all watching local non-league games; perhaps they are Jewish.
At last the teams trail on to the pitch to much rousing applause, cheering and infantile posturing and I once again realise why I simultaneously love and loathe this fixture. Town kick off towards me, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, Pat from Clacton and the many unfamiliar faces all around us. Norwich City, the Canaries are wearing their usual unsightly yellow shirts and green shorts, but this season their shoulders are flecked with what from a distance looks, most appropriately like guano. Very quickly Town win a free-kick just outside the Norwich penalty area; it’s an opportunity for a direct shot at goal if anyone has the requisite skills; they don’t and new loan signing Jordan Graham, whose name makes me think of breakfast cereal (Jordan’s Country Crisp and Nestlés Golden Grahams) blazes the ball high over the Norwich cross-bar, dashing the hopes of 20,000 Town fans in a split second. “Oh Christ” says the old boy next to me with sad resignation.
Five minutes pass and the away fans break into a chorus of “On The Ball City”, the sort of archaic football song that could only survive in a remote corner of the country whereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA incest is rife. On the touchline, young, “hungry” Ipswich manager Paul Hurst looks the part in his small size tracksuit. Beyond ‘Hursty’, Norwich manager Daniel Farke looks like a groundhopper, dressed as he is in a sort of grey anorak. It may be a heresy to say so, but I can’t help liking Daniel Farke, I think it’s because he’s German, but I’d also like to know where he bought that anorak.
On the pitch Town’s early effort on goal is a fading memory as Norwich start to look the stronger team, both physically and in terms of skill. It’s a bit before twelve-thirty and Town captain Luke Chambers is booked by referee Robert Jones. With three debutants in the side, Town at times look as if they don’t know whether they’re at a football match or a coming-out ball. Norwich hit a post with a shot and Ipswich do the same, but better. Town’s Jordan Graham is booked for cheating by falling over in the penalty area unassisted, although I like to think a small part of the booking was also for his hopeless free-kick at the start of the match. It’s a scrappy and overly physical match punctuated by several injuries to players of both teams and six minutes of injury time are to be added at the end of the half,

or they will be once Town’s Cole Skuse is scraped off the pitch and loaded onto the electric truck and carted away. As ever-present Phil points out, it’s not often the first half hasn’t ended by the time the second half is due to start. Today’s attendance is announced as 25,690 and the Norwich congregation, appropriately on a Sunday spontaneously break into a rendition of the hymn Cwm Rhondda, but cast doubt on their faith by singing “You’re support is fucking shit” rather than the more traditional “Be though still my strength and shield”, but each to his own.
Half-time arrives eventually at close on one o’clock and it’s time for lunch. Only a few hours ago I ate a vast breakfast of bacon, toast, tomatoes, poached eggs and croissants with honey to stave off hunger, but all around me tin foil and Tupperware are opened up to reveal all manner of packed meals; OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAit’s like the teddy bear’s picnic, but without the teddy bears. Ros has cooked sausage rolls, and kind and generous man that he is Ray delivers one to me on his way to the toilet. People are lovely, I don’t deserve this, but I eat OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAit all the same. I had been looking forward to a Pawelek Advocaat and fondant ‘filled’ plain chocolate bar (reduced to 30p in the Sainsbury’s World Foods aisle) as a half-time treat, but it has melted somewhat in my pocket, soOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA disappointed I leave it unwrapped and uneaten. To raise my spirits I look at the match programme (£3) and seek amusement in the names of the Norwich City squad; at number four they have Mr Godfrey (“Do you think I may be excused?”) and number six Zimmerman reminds me that the Clapton FC have a player called Dylan, but I wouldn’t say it made me laugh.
Fortunately, the footballers return, although Daniel Farke’s anorak doesn’t, and play resumes but not before the old dear next but one from me says to the old boy next to me “Mmmm, smell the grass”. She is so right, you sometimes just have to simply smell the grass. Returning from my moment of quiet contemplation it’s evident Trevoh Chalobah has replaced Cole Skuse and he soon smacks a half volley over the Norwich cross bar as Ipswich start to dominate in a frantic fifteen minute spell of excitement and increasing volume of support from the Town fans. Nine minutes into the half and Kayden Jackson has what I reckon is Town’s first goal attempt on target as he accurately re-directs a Jon Walters’ cross. Three minutes later Jon Walters heads back to Gwion Edwards and his shot deflects off a guano-dappled shirt and into the far corner of the Norwich goal and a roar erupts from the Portman Road crowd the like of which I have not heard in a very long time. Apparently it is the first occasion on which Town have opened the scoring in a match versus Norwich at Portman Road since 1998, when incidentally, Town won by five, yes five goals to nil, which again incidentally Town also did in 1977 and also in 1946.
I begin to dare to believe Ipswich might win this game, but our dominance doesn’t last and Norwich grow stronger again as Town are unable to maintain the righteous onslaught. Norwich have a spell of pressure similar to the one Ipswich had and a nasty habit of letting the ball run to Norwich players at the edge of the penalty area culminates in Moritz Leitner striking a firm low shot just inside Dean Gerken’s left hand post; it is a shot I have a disturbingly perfect in-line view of, all the way from the German’s boot to the net. Bugger.
The Town support falls silent having previously made the sort of noise normally only heard in places like Portsmouth or Marseille. The Norwich support are right to ask if this is a library. The belief in a win has evaporated in a flash. When Jordan Graham is substituted the old boy next to me asks “Who’s coming on?” When he‘s told it’s Grant Ward he glumly remarks “Well, he’s not bad” as if to leave unspoken the fact that he’s not going to win the game though. The last minutes are eked out, Norwich come close, Gerken makes a couple of good saves, Town break up field and a corner and free-kick raise hopes and voices, but all too briefly before Mr Roberts calls time.
It’s not been much of a game really, but it has been bloody exciting nonetheless. If the crowd is passionate enough, even relatively poor quality football matches can be enjoyable, because as we were told by Mary Poppins “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”; although it was the 1960’s when she sang that and some sugar was known to be laced with LSD and some with the polio vaccine.

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Felixstowe & Walton v Haverhill Borough Needham Market 0 Dulwich Hamlet 3

It had been a damp morning, I had walked to the village post office in a light drizzle and then driven back to collect a prescription for my wife from the pharmacist opposite the post office because I had forgotten it first time around. I now leave the house for the third time in an hour to walk to the railway station. The day is dull and grey, but as I turn the corner into the station forecourt there is a single bloom on a hawthorn bush. It seems Rachel Carson’s silent spring is delayed for another year, but it’s surely coming.
Putting aside thoughts of doomsday I board the train and text a man called Gary to let him know I am in the third car of the train. The smell of cheap perfume, so cheap it could just be the smell of washing powder, permeates the warm air of the carriage; behind me a couple speak to one another in a foreign language. Gary is accompanying me today and will join me on the train at Colchester and in due course he does so, but not before I anticipate his boarding of the train by the door nearest me only to see a man who looks like Iggy Pop’s heavier brother board in his place, which I find a little disconcerting. Gary has read previous entries on this blog and this has inspired him to want to join me, because it sounds such fun.
Gary and I catch up on events since we last met and soon arrive at Ipswich where there is another half an hour to wait for the train to Felixstowe, we therefore adjourn to the Station Hotel opposite where Gary drinks a pint of a strategically branded ‘American’ lager called Samuel Adams, served in a strangely shaped glass and I drink a pint of a fashionably hoppy ‘craft ale’ that I have never heard of, which is probably brewed furtively by the Greene King brewery. The Station Hotel is pleasant enough but reeks of the latest corporate house style of a national brewing chain.
At about ten to two we drain our glasses and cross the road back to the railway station to discover that due to a passenger being taken ill, the 13.58 to Felixstowe has been cancelled. The Ipswich to Felixstowe passenger rail service has to be one of the least reliable anywhere on Earth and suffers regular cancellations for a variety of reasons, sometimes for days at a time. This may be because it is just a one track, one carriage shuttle service, but this being so there should be a contingency plan to maintain a service. If this were mainland Europe there would probably be a regular tram or light rail service between Ipswich and Felixstowe, but sadly this is brexiting Britain.
The cancellation provokes a quick assessment of where else there is an accessible game this afternoon and it’s a choice between Needham Market, Whitton United or Ipswich Wanderers. Seeing as we are at the railway station from where trains run directly to Needham, but buses do not run directly to Whitton or Humber Doucy Lane it is easiest to go to Needham. A convoluted ticket refund and new ticket purchase procedure later (£3.05 for a day return with a Gold Card), we are ready to catch the 14.20 to Cambridge calling at Needham Market.
The hourly train journey to Needham is short and sweet, taking just ten minutes to sneak out of Ipswich’s back door past the ever more dilapidated, former Fison’s factory at Bramford and along the wide valley of the River Gipping. Needham Market station is aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA thing of beauty, a red brick building in the Jacobean style and dating from 1846, it is Grade 2 listed. Happily, although it was closed in 1967 it re-opened just four years later. Tearing myself away from the loveliness of the railway station, it is a numbingly simple and direct walk to Bloomfields, the home of Needham Market Town Football Club. Across, the station forecourt, sadly dominated by parked cars, past the wonderfully named Rampant Horse pub where Calvors beer and lager brewed locally in Coddenham is served, across the main road, down the side of the Swan Hotel and on up the side of the valley, leaving the timber framed buildings of central Needham and reaching the football ground through an estate of 1960’s bungalows. The route is so simple and direct it is as if the railway station and the football ground are the two most important things in Needham Market and as Gary remarks, the path between is akin to Wembley Way.
At Bloomfields we walk through the busy car park and are both £11 lighter having passed through the turnstile, on the other side of which a programme costs a further £2. It’s not twenty to three yet so we take a detour into the clubhouse and there being no real beer on offer we imbibe something called East Coast IPA (£3.00 a pint). The pump label shows the east coast of America for some reason, although the beer is manufactured by Greene King in Bury St Edmunds and my view is that they are hustling in on the good name of the ‘other’ Suffolk brewer Adnams, which uses the slogan ’beer from the coast’. Gary likes the beer, but then he likes Carlsberg; I find it much too cold, bland and fizzy and I’m glad when it’s over. That’s ‘the thing’ about drinking alcohol, it has to be pretty disgusting not to finish it.


Outside, the sizeable crowd of 495 mill about and lean over the pitchside rail, whilst the two teams appear to be caged up inside the tunnel from the dressing rooms. Eventually the teams process onto the field side by side and go through all that hand shaking malarkey. The stadium announcer speaks with a mild Suffolk accent which sounds clipped as if he doesn’t read very well, but in fact that is just the nature of reading out loud with a Suffolk accent. Gary and I remark on the name of the Dulwich number eleven, Sanchez Ming, the sort of name to strike fear into the heart of Donald Trump, if he has one. Today’s match is sponsored by John and Sue. Gary and I elect to stand with the Dulwich supporters in the barn like structure behind the near goal at the Ipswich end of the ground. If Needham ever had to make this stand all-seater they could do so with the addition of just a few straw bales.


The match begins with Dulwich Hamlet, all in pink, kicking towards Ipswich whilst Needham, who are disguised as Melchester Rovers play in the direction of Stowmarket. Dulwich start well and have an early shot blocked. A Dulwich supporter sounds a doom-laden warning to the Needham goalkeeper, Danny Gay, that he is on borrowed time. When he does it again someone responds that we all are. It’s marvellous how Step 3 non-league football gets you in touch with a sense of your own mortality. The goalkeeper smiles kindly, but it’s not even ten past three when following a turn and through ball from Dipo Akenyemi, Dulwich’s nippy number seven Nyren Clunis appears in front of goal with the ball at his feet and just the large frame of Danny Gay between him and glory. Nyren and glory are united as the ball is at first blocked by big Danny, but Clunis rolls in the rebound and the Dulwich supporters cheer gleefully. A man in a dark raincoat and trilby hat dances around holding a banner that says ‘Goal’ in case anyone was in any doubt that Dulwich had scored. A woman swings a small pink and navy blue football rattle, but it doesn’t. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dulwich continue to provide all the attempts on goal and a selection of corner kicks and shortly after twenty past three Clunis scores again, in similar circumstances to the first goal, but due to a defensive mistake and Danny Gay makes no initial save. This time the man in the dark raincoat and hat toots a pink plastic horn to celebrate. The Needham locals look on silently, inscrutably, like Ipswich Town fans do. They may have been expecting defeat, Dulwich, after all, are striking out at top of the twenty-four team Bostik Premier Division, whilst Needham are meandering around the wilderness of mid-table anonymity where existence has no meaning; they are 14th . A twenty-four team league is much too large.
As half-time approaches Gary asks if I fancy a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate and from his short menu I choose tea (£1). Gary has a tea too. Over tea Gary talks fondly about his grandfather who was a Communist and stood as such in a council election in the London Borough of Brent in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. He was a well-known character on the west London estate where he lived, but he didn’t get elected. It was because of his grandad that Gary read Robert Tressell’s book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist”. We both agree that with today’s ‘gig economy’ the working life of many people is much the same in relative terms to what it would have been a hundred years ago.
We put the revolution on hold as the teams return to the field and we move to the other end of the ground to the side of the all-seated Les Ward stand, which is a small, prefabricated, metal structure. The Marketmen show glimpses of recovery as the new half begins but at seven minutes past four Dulwich score a third goal when Nyren Clunis passes to Nathan Ferguson who shoots accurately between the goalpost and the clawing, despairing, outstretched glove of Danny Gay.
Despite Needham showing a bit more attacking intent in the second half Dulwich are too good for them. Danny Gay has a chat with the Dulwich fans behind the goal; he seems to be counselling one supporter telling him that he is sure he could get a wife, because he has one. Later there is outrage amongst the Dulwich fans as The Marketmen’s Sam Nunn hacks down Clunis in full flight and is merely booked by referee Mr Paul Burnham who has blatantly ignored the supporters chants of “Off! Off! Off!”. Danny Gay then makes a fine save, diving to his left to tip away a shot that would otherwise have given Clunis his hat-trick.
The floodlights have now come on as the greyness of the day deepens and low cloud descends over the gaunt trees and power lines that provide a distant backdrop. A chill bites at my bare hands, which I push deep into my coat pockets. The game is drawing to a close and the result is already known. It is a somewhat pernickety and mean-spirited therefore when Mr Burnham penalises Dulwich goalkeeper Corey Addai for holding onto the ball too long, invoking a rarely enforced rule that results in an indirect free-kick to Needham and a harsh booking for Addai. Mr Burnham is a short, stocky, completely bald man whilst Addai is just 20 years old, 6 foot 7 inches tall and with an enormous head of hair. I suspect a barely hidden agenda provoked by jealousy.
Needham’s free-kick inevitably comes to nought and after four minutes of added time the game ends. The Needham number ten, Jamie Griffiths, who has worn a large head bandage throughout the afternoon is elected Man of the Match and receives a bottle of Champagne from John and Sue the match sponsors, whilst standing in front of a board plastered with company logos and being photographed.
Gary and I reflect on what has been an entertaining match as we head back down into Needham village. The next train is not until ten to six and therefore we have a good forty minutes or more to end the afternoon by enjoying a pint of ultra-locally brewed beer in the conveniently located and fabulously named Rampant Horse public house.

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Finally, Dulwich Hamlet are currently going through a torrid time due to the development company Meadow Partners who own their Champion Hill ground having undertaken a number of immoral and twisted actions such a trying to seize the rights to the club name and trademarks, loading debt onto the club and preventing it from taking profits form match day bars. Presumably Meadow Partners want rid of the club so that they can make profit from developing the site for housing.
Go to https://savedulwichhamlet.org.uk for more information and details of the Fans United day on Good Friday when Dulwich invite fans from all clubs to attend their match versus Dorking at Tooting & Mitcham’s ground where they are now forced to finish their season.