Long Melford 2 Newmarket Town 1

Long Melford is a big village, one of the most appealing and attractive in Suffolk according to Suffolk Tourist Guide.com with, according to Wikipedia, a population in 2011 of some 3,518. Melford, as it is known locally, is just a few miles north of Sudbury, it used to have a railway but since 1967 and the evil Doctor Beeching, the line now terminates at Sudbury. If you want to get to Long Melford by public transport therefore, it is necessary get the No 753 bus from Sudbury to Bury St Edmunds. Like the train service from Marks Tey, the bus service runs hourly, but as this is England the trains and buses are not properly co-ordinated; the train to Sudbury arrives at 13.08 and the bus conveniently leaves at 13:30, reaching Long Melford Post Office ten minutes later. On the return journey however, the 754 bus passes Long Melford Post Office at 17:11 and arrives in Sudbury four minutes after the train has left, at 17:20, so there is nearly an hour’s wait in Sudbury for the next train at 18:16.
Today however, I am driving to Long Melford’s Stoneylands ground because I have agreed to give a lift to a man called Roly, who lives in nearby Borley. I happen to know Roly’s house is within walking distance of Stoneylands because Roly has walked it before, but I was in generous mood when we discussed by text message going to the game and very slightly inebriated.
It is a grey, still, cold winter’s day as I make the twisting, undulating drive through Chappel, home of the East Anglian Railway Museum, Mount Bures with its excellent Thatchers Arms pub, Bures with its large empty bus depot, the edge of Cornard and through busy Sudbury before taking the turn towards the wonderfully named Foxearth. In Borley, Roly’s Victorian cottage home is a scene of domestic bliss; his partner Sarah reclines on the sofa with their young baby Lottie, whilst Penny the dog rolls over at my feet and wriggles excitedly. But I don’t linger, there is football to go to and within

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minutes Roly and I are bouncing down the pitted, puddle filled private road that leads to the football ground and my Citroen C3 gets a taste of what it must have been like to be a Citroen 2CV carrying a tray of eggs across a field somewhere in the Auvergne.
Getting parked takes longer than it should as the man in the car in front seems to want to park as close to the entrance as possible, which means reversing gingerly and at first unsuccessfully into a narrow space despite the presence of acres of car free space just 15metres away. There is an air of the village hall about Melford’s ground from the

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outside and indeed the club’s nickname is The Villagers. There is no turnstile as such here, just a few metal and plastic barriers herding would be spectators towards a kiosk of the type that used to be at the exit to municipal car parks back before the days of Pay & Display, when a bloke stamped your ticket and took your money as you left. There is a short queue to get in because it takes the

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grey-haired woman in the kiosk a little while to root around for change from a plastic tub. A board on the side of the kiosk announces the price of admission, but in reality it’s just a green smudge of felt tip pen; fortunately I’ve done my homework so I know from the club website that admission is £7 including a programme.
Once inside, Roly buys me a bottle of Nethergate IPA (£3.50) in the bar, which is the least he could do after I went out of my way to drive him here, selfishly he gets one for himself too. We drink bottled beer because sadly the hand pump on the bar is covered over with a tea towel, which is very disappointing. The woman serving is struggling for change and asks rhetorically how she is expected to run a bar with a float of just four pound coins. I empty my pockets and find just short of ten pounds in change, which she is happy to exchange for a ten pound note; I’m 40p up!

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We sup our beer in the company of other middle-aged and older men stood around tables as men do in bars, but soon we are aware that the teams are coming on to the pitch. We leave the clubhouse just as the line-up for the obligatory handshakes is dissolving away into the two halves of the pitch. Newmarket Town are the visiting team today and they sit seventh with 53 points from 31 games in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League table; Melford are 16th with 39 points from 32 games. It’s a clash between a village known for antique shops and a town known for horse racing. I suspect that watching local football puts us firmly outside those two spheres of activity although weirdly I think, there is an advert in the match programme for “Wealth management advice”, whatever happened to plain old financial advice?
The 1970’s pop blaring from the tannoy stops abruptly as Newmarket, nicknamed predictably as the Jockeys, kick off towards the dull, suburban estate-style houses at the Sudbury end of the ground. Newmarket’s club colours are yellow and blue, but for some unknown reason today they are wearing a rather ugly all red kit with white stripes below the chest, as if they’d brushed their teeth before coming on and dribbled Colgate down their stomachs. Melford play towards the dilapidated wooden fence, shelter and open fields to the north, wearing their signature black and white striped shirts and black shorts. Melford’s kit is embellished with name of the excellent Nethergate Brewery, who have newly built premises at the entrance to the village by the turning to Foxearth.
Newmarket start well, passing neatly and getting forward, but Melford suddenly win possession, breakaway and have a shot, and so it continues. Both teams have a lot of players with beards. Newmarket have the ball most of the time, but Melford spring the occasional surprise, getting the ball to their number seven Hassan Ally who is always in the right place, but never quite makes the final telling cross or pass. The Melford cross bar is hit by a header and then at about twenty five past three a long ball to the right is chased down by Lewis Whitehead who shoots across the Melford goal keeper; Newmarket lead and a number of middle aged men cheer unexpectedly. No one in the crowd is wearing club colours but for a Bedlington Terrier in a red coat, so the presence of away supporters is a surprise.

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Half-time arrives and Newmarket would seem to be in control. Roly has already treated

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or ‘tret’ himself, as he would say in his quaint rustic dialect, to a cheeseburger (£3.00) from the food bar which the programme tells us is called Deb’s Diner. The concluding paragraph of the joint managers’ column in the programme says “Whatever happens, we hope you enjoy your afternoon here in Long Melford, get yourself something to eat and drink…” and Roly has clearly taken note. I don’t ask him if it was an early tea or late lunch or just a celebration that his NHS health check during the week had shown him to be a well man, clearly capable of absorbing the ill-effects of junk food, for the time being at least.
We go into the club house again for two more bottles of Nethergate IPA and to catch the half-time scores on the TV and are much heartened that Ipswich are winning 2-0 at Sunderland. The club house is recently refurbished after the roof fell-in last year and there are several marvellous photos on the walls of past achievements such as Suffolk Senior Cup wins. A trophy cabinet contains a couple of old brown leather footballs which impress me more than the cups and trinkets. When there is a cosy clubhouse, half time is never long enough and it’s soon time to re-join the rows of middle-aged men hanging over the rail around the pitch.

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The second half is not the same as the first, roles are reversed and it is the Villagers who more frequently have the ball at their feet whilst the Jockeys chase about in vain and are pushed back into their own half. For the second half we stand on the opposite side of the ground to the clubhouse near the dugouts and in front of a coniferous hedge, carefullyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and neatly cut into a modernist architectural shape; behind the hedge a close-board wooden fence is in places nailed to its thick trunks. In its neatness the hedge is only matched by the Newmarket goalkeeper’s haircut, but is less contrived. There is more noise on this side of the pitch as the coaches of both team teams shout and urge their teams on.
As the game continues Melford dominate more and more and Newmarket are getting tetchy. Whilst there were hardly any fouls at all in the first half, tiredness and desperation and swearing are introducing a new kind of entertainment. A Melford player goes down and the Newmarket number two complains to Mr Pope and anyone who is listening, because Mr Pope isn’t, that Melford have some right prima donnas, although he pronounces it pre-madonnas. Another foul and a free-kick on the edge of the box and then another. Then, whilst Roly is in the toilet, Melford win a third free-kick. Despite referee Mr Pope taking time to book the perpetrator, Roly still isn’t back by the time Ross Waugh scores, apparently with a header, although to be honest it was one of those messy goals and I had lost track of the ball.
There are only eight minutes left and the blokes in trackie bottoms and sports coats onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the touchline are visibly tense. The Melford number ten Scott Sloots is hurt and is substituted; as he hobbles off the pitch one or two of his own players seem to be complaining that he is taking his time. “Come on ref, make him get off quicker” I hear. I hadn’t previously realised that there was a point where team togetherness and the will to win would clash. But nevertheless, Melford continue to push forward and in the final minute of injury time there is a run down the left, the ball’s in the box, a shot is blocked and Hassan Ally is in the right place to score from the rebound. Rarely have I seen such elation from a team sixteenth in the league to a winning goal; both coaches burst onto the pitch to celebrate with the team as if this was a most crucial victory. I’m all in favour of making your own fun but this seems to be going a bit far.
To his credit, Mr Pope the referee makes nothing of the exuberance of the Melford coaches and in no time at all the match is over. Roly and I stroll round to the club house to make final use of the toilet before applauding the Melford team from the pitch. It’s been a very entertaining game with a dramatic finale and I’ve made 40p.

Ipswich Town 3 Preston North End 0

Ipswich Town and Preston North End are arguably two of the least interesting teams in whatever it is that Football League Division Two is now called. Preston, despite being the original ‘Invincibles’ have not played in the top flight of English football since 1960 and now, almost famously, Ipswich have been becalmed, marooned, stuck in English football’s second tier for 15 years and nobody really expects either club to do much more than finish in mid-table. Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy said as much in his pre-match press conference; he is nothing if not truthful is our Mick. These two ‘small-town’ provincial clubs have both enjoyed a level of success in the past that far exceeds what might be expected of them and for that reason they are both very special.
It is a grey, wet, blustery, thoroughly autumnal day as I set out for the train station and the bright floodlights of Ipswich. The largely infrequent, but nevertheless large plops of rain are enough to warrant the carrying of an umbrella, which the wind blows inside out. A Colchester United fan boards the train with me, blissfully unaware that his team are destined to lose at home to non-league Oxford City later this afternoon in the first round of the FA Cup. A Town fan in a wheelchair sits by the sliding doors. Leaves swirl horizontally past the train window. Pulling out of Colchester the serried ranks of suburban homes look at their best on such a drab day; the wet tarmac of the estate road shining in front of them like a snail trail under torchlight. Opposite me a mother and daughter sit, each with the same long, blond/mousey hair and Roman nose. One is doing her best to look much younger, the other trying hard to look holder. It makes me feel guilty to be a man. At Manningtree the grey clouds and subdued colours of the trees in Dedham Vale are just right to keep John Constable at his easel and away from Portman Road this afternoon, but four other blokes get on and share their mild, blokey humour with one another. I look down out of the window and see a tomato plant on the track and three plump green tomatoes that will never be fried or ripen to be eaten in a Salade Nicoise.
The train arrives on time in Ipswich and the man in the wheelchair asks me to find a guard to get him off the train; happily, the first one I meet is on her way to get him.38133418286_f6fc1767bc_o Outside, Ipswich is beautiful in a grey, wet and shiny sort of a way. I head down Princes Street then down and up Portman Road to St Matthews Street and St Jude’ s Tavern. In Portman Road the turnstiles are already open, stewards fiddle with their metal detectors and the sniffer dog and his handler peer up the street. I think about buying a match programme as I approach the kiosk and read ‘Here to help’ on the back of the seller’s jacket. I am tempted to test the boast by asking if the programme is worth the £3 I would be expected to pay for it.

I chicken out and walk on, saving my cash to spend just two-thirds of it on a pint of Nethergate IPA at St Jude’s; it’s cheap because it is today’s Match Day Special! It is so good St Jude's Tavern 69 St Matthews StI have another and then, to avoid feeling like a complete skinflint I pay full price (£3.40) for a pint of Bearstown Polar Eclipse, a dark beer which is exceedingly good. At the table next to me in the pub are a group of five Preston North End fans; I tell them I have heard good things of their bus station and they smile, sort of. It transpires that none of them now lives in Preston. One of them tells me they are literally ‘exiles’; I don’t ask. I chat off and on with them and one confides that Ipswich are still the best team he has ever seen play against Preston; in an FA Cup third round match in 1979 which Town won 3-0. It is one of those “aw shucks” moments to hear my team complimented so. Another one of the group tells me how amazed they are that St Jude’s is so close Portman Road, is such a good pub and yet isn’t rammed to the gills. I confide that Ipswich fans don’t seem to ‘get’ real ale and it reminds me of how in Hunter Davies’ book ‘The Glory Game’ a Spurs skinhead says how Ipswich is his favourite place to visit, “More cunt” he says “They ain’t got no supporters. All the geezers up there don’t know what it’s for. We always stay the night there and chase their birds’. That was in 1972; that skinhead later became Defence Minister, allegedly……
I bid farewell to the good Prestonians, wishing them a happy season as they leave for the match before I visit the lavatory and then set off for Portman Road myself, remembering to return my empty glass to the bar before I leave. As I turn into Portman Road I notice38189181011_81180be5db_o the poor state of the street name plate, which looks like someone has got at it with an angle grinder. Slightly upset that anyone could do this to something that signifies an Ipswich icon, I nevertheless continue on my way. The weather has cleared up and

although the floodlights are on, the lowering sun is still to be seen over the silver roof of the north stand, or Sir Bobby Robson stand as it is now known. I pass on down Portman Road and the statue of Sir Bobby seems to point me on my way, which is unnecessarily helpful of him. I glance up at the Cobbold Stand admiring the rhythm of its concrete stanchions, although no doubt it fails to impress the Preston fans, spoiled by their fabulous Grade II listed, Brutalist, bus station. There is no queue at the turnstile and no security check to ensure I am not a suicide bomber or concealing a musical instrument about my person, which would be a serious breach of ground regulations.
Before today’s match there is a minute’s silence because this is the closest day to Armistice Day on which Town have a home match and apparently the club wants to pay its respects. It is weird, in all those years when there were most people still alive whoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fought in the two greatest conflicts ever, the two World Wars, a minute’s silence only took place at 11 am on the 11th of November and on Remembrance Sunday; nowadays it’s best to tread softly at this time of year when entering a football stadium in case you inadvertently interrupt one. There are eight paratroopers in the centre circle and a lone bugler who plays the last post. The bugler is miked up and relayed through the PA system, but unfortunately because the PA system is so loud there is feedback or reverb and a simultaneous ‘farted’ rendition of the last post is heard through the loudspeakers. According to Wikipaedia, Le Pétomane, Joseph Pujol the French ‘flatulist’ retired from the stage because he was so horrified by the inhumanity of the First World War.
The paratroopers march off and around the pitch as people applaud and into the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand where they break ranks and begin to fumble in their OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtunic pockets for their match tickets, looking a bit confused as to where they are supposed to sit. The game begins. It’s awful. Perhaps one of the worst forty five minutes of ‘football’ I have ever seen. Nothing of any genuine sporting interest happens. Preston players fall over a lot, but the Ipswich trainer is also called on to attend to the fallen and all that really happens is that added-on time is racked up. Even Crazee the Ipswich Town mascot looks to have given up all hope today as heOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA hangs his head despairingly, standing at the top of the stairs. Mick MCarthy adopts various poses, showing himself off to good effect in his nylon tracksuit. I spend a little time looking at the Preston supporters to see if I can spot the blokes I was in the pub with; in a following of about 430 it’s not that difficult and I pick them out all sat in a row. I wonder what they are making of the game.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My attention is then caught by the Preston number four Ben Pearson because his hair is longer than that of the other players; watching it flow and flop and bounce as he runs about is more entertaining than the game and I am reminded of Adrian Rabiot of Paris St Germain, as I often am by my wife who is besotted with him. But Pearson is no Rabiot and he needs more work on his hair.
As ever, the Portman Road crowd (14,390 today) is very quiet; there is a momentary rumble of drums at the start of the match and some muffled chants but they soon lose interest in getting behind the team. I chant and clap “Ipswich! Ipswich! Ipswich!” when a corner is won, but am ignored in the same way that people would put their heads down and pass quickly on past a drunken derelict shouting at passing cars. The first and only ripple of anything like enthusiasm manifests itself on 23 minutes when the crowd cheer the booking of Preston’s Jorgan Hugill; that’s what they thrive on in Ipswich, Schadenfreude. Incidentally, Hugill is a man who, with his World War One conscript style hair cut looks from a distance a bit like Terry Hall formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three. Preston have many injured players who cannot play today and with a weakened team it seems that they are banking on ensuring no football is played, in the belief or hope that twenty two blokes just running around and occasionally falling over will result in a goalless draw. Sadly Ipswich don’t have the wit or guile to prevent this and have a bit of a record of adopting a similar tactic in recent seasons, relying on randomly won free-kicks and corners to create goalmouth confusion and hopefully goals, albeit scrappy ones. All goes well for Preston until Ipswich’s Martyn Waghorn wins a free-kick some 25 metres from goal. It’s a chance to by-pass the awkward footballing bit of the game and just kick the ball over the assembled human wall of Preston players and straight at the goal. This is what Martyn Waghorn proceeds to do, sweeping the ball majestically over that Maginot Line and into the goal as Preston’s goalkeeper Chris Maxwell helpfully throws himself out of the way. Within five minutes added-on time there is a moment in which Preston’s dreadlocked Daniel Johnson launches the ball on to the top of the Ipswich cross-bar with a flash of inspiration, but then it’s half time. The crowd applaud as Town leave the field, forgetting the first forty-four minutes of the match and only recalling the last five in which Town took the lead. But I have mentioned it, lest we forget.
I seek out a former work colleague at half-time who I had spoken to on the phone the day before; he sits with his grandson who has cerebral palsy. I then meet another friend Phil, who is famous as a man who has seen over a thousand consecutive competitive Town

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Phil (bottom right)

games home and away; he gets featured in articles and stuff, not just blogs that very few people read. Phil is a proper supporter, whose love for Ipswich Town is unconditional. He doesn’t whine when Town lose, or hurl abuse at Mick McCarthy, he’s too busy worrying if he might miss the next game.
Within three minutes of the resumption of play Town are 2-0 up as David McGoldrick rises at the far post to head in a right wing cross. Phil jumps up much more enthusiastically than I do, but then he is a good ten years younger than me. People around me are happier now, but even before the goal they seem generally lighter of mood in this little bit of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand than they do where I usually sit. It’s as if the first half was July 28th to December 24th 1914 and now it’s Christmas Day and a football match has spontaneously broken out.
Things get better still as a move down the right sees Ipswich’s Kosovan loanee Bursant Celina forge his way into the penalty area and surprise everyone by suddenly booting the ball into the goal past the goalkeeper, who is inevitably by now hapless. Phil and I chant “Ohhh, Bursant Celina” to the tune of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes. No one else joins in. Preston are now forced to seriously alter their game plan and Ipswich are therefore required to defend more, so we don’t see any more goals today. Ipswich fans are happy and smiling and there are even some chants at the other end of the ground. The North standers, their confidence boosted by the three goal cushion, remember that the Preston manager was previously the Norwich City manager; “Alex Neal; what a wanker” they sing.
Those seeking out the familiar territory of disappointment can do so by reflecting thatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ipswich haven’t scored four or five goals today, but to be fair to the team they have achieved a very respectable victory by playing just half a game. With the final whistle I applaud the team and then file away with everyone else into Saturday evening. At the southern end of Portman Road the street nameplate which sits at first floor level on the Archant building looks pristine in contrast to that at the northern end.

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