Woodbridge Town 2 Clapton 2

Today is the day of my favourite round of the FA Cup. Whilst supporters of professional clubs may enjoy the third round when the ‘big’ clubs deign to take part, or the first round when the not quite so big clubs join in, I love the very first day. For a start, it is still summer and the days remain long and warm, but what I love about it more is not that any particular clubs take part, or even that it is the beginning, what I like is its name, the extra-preliminary round. Before the first round there are four qualifying rounds; before the first one of those there is a preliminary round, but the FA clearly don’t think that goes far enough and rather than have six qualifying rounds, they decide to have both a preliminary round and an extra-preliminary round. This seems to me to embody the FA’s attitude to grass roots football clubs as a bit of a nuisance that must be culled before the competition can begin properly. This is the FA ‘putting it’ to these little clubs that they are nothing. It’s no wonder that only 800 odd clubs enter the FA Cup, the FA would never cope with what happens in France where over 7,000 clubs enter their equivalent competition, the Coupe de France, but then, France is a republic.
Today I am travelling to Woodbridge by train (£3.15 return from Ipswich with a Goldcard) to watch Woodbridge Town, newly promoted to the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League, play Clapton of the Essex Senior league, a club with a distinguished history and where the fabled Walter Tull began his football career. On the first part of my journey to Ipswich I sit next to two women discussing a man called Amos and what he does when he is in Uganda. When I change trains I sit at a table where a girl in red socks and white T-shirt is quick to tell me that she is innocent of having made the neat arrangement of two empty Lucozade bottles and three crisp packets that sit on the table. I tell her it’s okay, I will avert my gaze and look out of the window. British Transport police are looking for an obese person with OCD who is recovering from illness. Two West Bromwich Albion supporters on their way to Norwich sit across the gangway from me, we chat a little and I wish them luck, telling them that I am expecting at least four or five goals from their team; pleasingly they will oblige. I also recoil from the hideous sight of a tall, well-spoken young man in a Norwich City shirt; he has ‘Cooper’ ‘21’ on his shirt back; his name and IQ I surmise, or possibly the number of members of his family with whom he has had a sexual relationship.
The three carriage 13:18 to Lowestoft leaves Ipswich on time and slowly roars its way through marshalling yards and past Hadleigh Road industrial estate with its mighty disused gas holder that sits in a nest of buddleia. Beyond the River Gipping the view of Ipswich from the bridges over Bramford Lane and Norwich Road is a joy with its cluster of modernist blocks and the floodlights of Portman Road looming up beyond low streets of red roofs, which haven’t changed much in eighty years, in many cases much longer. This is a lovely train journey, albeit a noisy one thanks to the diesel engine and old-fashioned clickety-clack of the rails. The train arrives at 13:32 and Woodbridge seems busy; a group of women, all teetering heels, tanned legs, tight dresses, make-up, flowers and fascinators await a taxi; on their way to a wedding, I hope. Woodbridge station is a homely looking building, but I waste no time in setting off up the hill towards Notcutt’s Park, which is a good twenty-minute walk away.


Woodbridge is clearly a well-heeled town, there are large houses, some with naked statuary in the garden and the lamp posts are adorned with somewhat twee hanging baskets, overflowing with summer flowers. I pass by the Cherry Tree pub but do just that, pass by, it looks busy and full of Saturday lunchtime diners. Further up the hill is the local Ford motor dealership where in 1970 my father traded in his maroon 1962 Ford Cortina 1200 for an almost new (ex-demonstrator), beige Ford Cortina 1600 Super, which he always maintained was the best car he ever owned.

Further on, the path leaves the roadside, ascending an embankment and becoming a leafy bower43072886655_a4cf6c222d_o before emerging again into the full light by the Duke of York ‘country’ pub, which is really a ‘family diner’ masquerading as a pub and part of the Vintage Inns chain whose “…rustic buildings offer a country style dining experience…” .

I have been walking for almost fifteen minutes and fearful that the Woodbridge Town clubhouse might only serve insipid Greene King IPA I call in for a pint of Adnams Southwold Bitter (£3.90). At the bar a youngish man orders food. “The menu says you have those kofte things” he says. “Yes” says the bar maid. “I’ll er, have some of them, er please” says the man, showing what sophisticated diners the English have become thanks to the country style dining experience and its ilk.
Refreshed by Adnams Southwold Bitter I press on with the final short leg of my walk to the match through a modern estate of red brick houses, which all look like they are43072882865_26c0797c46_o trying to be nineteenth century Suffolk farmhouses; I imagine their occupants having Ploughman’s lunches for every meal. At the end of a winding road of executive homes is Woodbridge Town Football Club. I follow a man with a carrier bag of empty bottles which he tips into the recycling bin outside before proceeding through the turnstile.

I pay my entry fee (£6.00) receiving a yellow and white ticket in exchange and purchase a programme (£1.00), which annoyingly I will later lose in mysterious circumstances (did it fall from my pocket, or did I leave it in the bar?), it was a glossy publication which I rather liked. After a cursory look across the pitch, where players of both teams are limbering up, I enter the bar and a youth wearing a thick grey anorak as if he’s in in 1990’s indie band serves me with a pint of Adnams Ghostship (£3.50). I feel foolish for worrying about Greene King IPA now and my faith in football club bars is restored, for now. The barman doesn’t look old enough to serve alcohol, but he later takes the anorak off revealing tattoos suggesting he is indeed over eighteen. But maybe he serially lies about his age, has been driving since he was thirteen and had this been a century ago he would already have spent a couple of years in the trenches of northern France. I sink the Ghostship and wander outside into the sun where the crowd is gathering. There are just two stands at Notcutt’s Park, one a covered, shallow metal terrace and the other, which is directly next to it, a brick structure with half a dozen rows of bench seats; I pick a spot in the seated stand and read my programme, which I have not yet lost. After a short while I am surprised to look up and see the two teams and the officials all lined up on the pitch, shaking hands like Baptists on a Sunday morning.
The game begins with Clapton in all blue with yellow socks and sleeves kicking off in the direction of whatever lies northeast of Woodbridge; Ufford probably. Woodbridge Town wear black and white stripes with black shorts and socks, hence their nickname ‘The Woodpeckers’, not that woodpeckers wear football kits and of course not all woodpeckers are black and white; a fact highlighted by the most laudable poster above20180811_144447_42172634410_o the urinals in the toilet urging spectators to buy a re-usable drinks cup and become a ‘green’ woodpecker. All clubs should be doing something OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsimilar.

 

 

Woodbridge play towards the junction with the A12, Martlesham and the tower of BT’s research laboratories which is visible in the distance.

 

The first foul of the game, after just a few seconds, draws a shout from the crowd “That’s about time ref”. Woodbridge look much the better of the two teams in the opening minutes; perhaps they should with former Ipswich Town and Sunderland player Carlos Edwards in their team; they pass the ball whilst Clapton just run about after them. But Woodbridge don’t create any chances to score and when it looks like they might, a Clapton player always manages to be in the way. Woodbridge have the first proper shot of the game, which flies over the Clapton cross bar in the seventh minute. Woodbridge are playing well, but then again they’re not; and Clapton are struggling, but then in a way they’re not because their goalkeeper has not had a save to make. Some of the crowd amuse themselves with shouts and cat calls. “VAR. That was a penalty!” is heard as a Woodbridge player tumbles in the box, and then “Eh, absolute shite ref” as play is waved on. I decide to take a wander, and alone at the corner of the ground I get to play the ball back to the Clapton full-back Lanre Vigo when it goes out for a throw. There is a pause in the action as the somewhat portly referee Mr James Beal speaks to two complaining Woodbridge players. ”Get on with it Porky” is the shout from the crowd; you can’t beat humour at the expense of fat people. I get to touch the ball back to Lanre Vigo again, this time a header, no one congratulates me and although it does knock my glasses off I thought ’I done well’.
Considering that as someone who paid to get in I am getting too many touches of the ball and am therefore bound to embarrass myself (if the flying glasses haven’t already done so) I walk round to the dug outs on the opposite side of the pitch to the stands. Here the Clapton manager and his coach are providing a constant commentary of the game as they live every touch of the ball by their players. “Why do you put it there?” shouts the manager to his goalkeeper Jack Francis “I keep telling you mate, I don’t want it in the centre I want it here”. There are a number of players who receive constant encouragement and instruction, the names Jerome, Warren, Gio and Dylan feature prominently. Number five Dylan Ebongo is a ‘big lad’ who rivals and outstrips the referee for the space he takes up on the pitch, but as is so often the case with players that spectators accuse of having eaten all the pastry based foods, he can play a bit and Dylan is a rock in the Clapton defence.
It’s about twenty five past three and against the run of play Clapton have a corner; at the near post the ball is flicked on, the young Woodbridge goalkeeper Alfie Stronge flaps a bit and the ball meets the goal net in the lovely way that footballs do; it’s 1-0 to Clapton. “Who scored?” asks the happy and surprised Clapton manager of his neatly coiffured number seven Ryan Reed, but he doesn’t seem to know, or I at least I can’t work out what he says.
“Take heart from that” shouts the Clapton manager to his team as if none of them expects not to lose. Despite his constant imploring and helpful encouragement to his players the Clapton manager seems quite pessimistic in private moments when speaking to his coach or simply verbalising his thoughts, or perhaps he’s just realistic. “We’re our own worst enemy”, “We could be in trouble here”, “Now we’ve got trouble” are a few of his comments as the Woodpeckers press, along with his admirably honest assessment that his team has actually done nothing and Woodbridge have had all the play. Despite being a goal up however, ten minutes before half-time there is a falling out between the manager and his number ten Jerome Mortell. Jerome is threatened with being substituted, but his response is simply “Go on then” and within a minute he is stomping his way round to the dressing room, leaving the pitch with the words “I’ve had enough of this shit”. Clapton had only Jacod Dingli on the bench today, and now he’s on the pitch, but at least they’re still winning and very soon they are almost two-nil up as another corner against the run of play sees a header thud against the woodwork of the Woodbridge goal.

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Across the pitch a tall man, immaculately dressed in a dark suit stands out amongst the general scruffiness of the usual football crowd, I believe this is Vince McBean the current owner of Clapton FC and a controversial figure after he allegedly attempted to liquidate the charity that administers Clapton’s Old Spotted Dog ground. From where I stand he looks like an undertaker.

Half-time and I’m one of the first at the bar for another pint of Ghostship (still £3.50) which I follow up with a visit to the toilet where I admire the juxtaposition of a large print of a sunset over the Woodbridge’s tide mill with the urinals; it makes me think of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’. 20180811_144443_42172634020_oBut there is little time to consider twentieth century art, the players are on the pitch and Woodbridge line-up as Clapton huddle. I return to stand between the dugouts where the entertainment is richest, although I do take a moment to enjoy the Co-op’s side by side, edge of pitch advertisements, one solemnly telling us how their funeral service is “Supporting loved ones locally when it matters” (and presumably telling non-local loved ones to clear off) and the other in a lighter frame of mind urging us to ‘Pop to the Co-op’.

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The second half begins and before not very long Ryan Reed intercepts a poor pass and breaks forward, he rides a tackle and is through on goal, he shoots, Alfie Stronge saves but the ball rebounds to Ryan who strikes it confidently and with force inside the far post from a tight angle. It’s 2-0 to Clapton.
The Clapton manager stresses the importance to his players, particularly to big Dylan at the centre of the defence, of holding onto the 2-0 lead in the next ten minutes, which he says will break Woodbridge’s hearts if they can do it. They do and the game seems to settle down with Woodbridge still dominating possession, but mostly over-hitting all their forward passes and crosses. Substitutions are made by Woodbridge and approaching the last fifteen minutes it looks like Clapton will hold on. The Woodbridge manager who incidentally is probably bigger than both the referee and Clapton’s Dylan seems calm, despite his frequent frustration at those over hit passes, is he resigned to a defeat?
Woodbridge for all their inadequacy in terms of shots, are still dominating however and the ball is spending most of its time on the Clapton half of the field. A Clapton player is nearly always the last man to touch the ball inside their own penalty area, but then just after twenty five to five the ball runs loose and Woodbridge’s number seven Callum Sinclair lashes it on the half volley in to the top corner of the Clapton goal to halve Clapton’s lead and give Woodbridge hope.
I came to this game as a neutral but the enthusiasm of the Clapton manager and coach and the fact that they turned up with just one substitute and seemingly a team that must be coached through every kick has me wanting them to hang on for the win. There is also a bit of me that wants rough, deprived, inner city Clapton to triumph over wealthy, privileged Woodbridge, although of course I know in reality that those distinctions don’t actually have any relevance in the context of these two football clubs.
Woodbridge earn a corner, it’s late in the game and goalkeeper Alfie Stronge comes up to add his presence and he heads narrowly over the Clapton cross bar. The Clapton manager berates his players for trying to pass the ball when clearly a hoof is required. That has been a recurring theme but I find it reassuring that players want to play the game ‘beautifully’, because that’s what makes it so good to watch and play whether it comes off or not. The game is into time added on and a half-hearted challenge which causes a slight stumble but no trip sees Mr Neal award a free-kick just outside the penalty area, in range for a well taken direct shot. The Clapton coach is apoplectic and winds himself up by imagining that it’s as if the referee wants Woodbridge to equalise; the manager is not happy about it but is more sanguine realising that whatever will be, will be on the way to Wemb-er-ley. Woodbridge’s number five Liam Scopes steps up to scoop a shot over the wall and into the top left hand corner of the Clapton goal. Woodbridge have tied the match and the Clapton coach is sent off by Mr Beal for simply getting carried away with himself.
There is no time for anything more to happen and I am only sorry that with the time now almost five o’clock I must leave and hot foot it back the railway station to catch the 17:18 back to Ipswich. It’s been a lovely afternoon in the August sun and a thoroughly entertaining game, which has been a credit to both clubs. I am tempted to try and make it to the replay. I’ve had a great time but in about twenty-five minutes I will realise I no longer have my programme.

Felixstowe & Walton United 2 Coggeshall Town 4

It’s rare that I finish work and take a trip to the seaside but this evening, having ‘logged out’ and put away the tools of my trade for another day, I find myself heading for the 16:58 from Ipswich stopping at all stations to Felixstowe, which means Westerfield, Derby Road and Trimley St Mary. It’s a bright, breezy evening as the single carriage box on rails roars into life and departs the platform ten seconds early. The frantic diesel engine growls and then subsides as if the driver is searching through a crash gearbox and struggling to double de-clutch. We pass over the bridges of Bramford Road and Norwich Road and I look along those streets to down town Ipswich with its chunky, if not gleaming towers and the Portman Road football ground, which looks massive beyond the low, humble rooftops of Ipswich’s residential streets. On a bright Spring evening Ipswich shows off its trees; it’s a fine town.
The train is fairly full of people heading home from work. Opposite me a simian looking man in a grey anorak; behind him a tall man with a crew cut wearing a red Adidas tracksuit top; he looks like a Russian cosmonaut. On the other side of the train to him is a luxuriantly bearded man with long hair hanging over bristly temples, he is wearing an infantile coat decorated with a gaudy cartoon character; the woman with him could surely do better than that. “Hello Mum, how are you doin?” says another man answering his mobile phone. The cheery conductor asks to see my ticket (£3.05 for a single with a Goldcard) and scribbles on it in biro. He hasn’t singld me out, he looks at other people’s tickets too. I only bought a single because it is impossible to get back from Felixstowe to most intermediate stations between Colchester and London after 9.25pm. I shall be cadging a lift home with two Coggeshall regulars Keith and Jim.
The journey takes about 25 minutes and is well worth the £3.05 fare, with its tour of the cuttings, embankments, bridges and viaduct of Ipswich and then the open countryside towards Trimley with its glimpses of the tops of dockside cranes. The track runs parallel to the road for some way and as we hurtle along and overtake a bus I am reminded of the Titfield Thunderbolt; Greater Anglia should have a bar on this commuter run.


Felixstowe station has a beautiful canopy and concourse which are Grade II listed, it’s just a shame a the platform is now divided in two by a surface car park. The fate of the railway station is that of Felixstowe in microcosm, one of faded, compromised Edwardian grace and occasional grandeur. Felixstowe could be posh like Southwold and Frinton and in places it is, but it has an unfortunate underbelly like most of divided Britain; on Hamilton Road a man sits on a bench wrapped in a sleeping bag. I do a spot of sightseeing, walking down to the cliff top get a glimpse of the sea and then back along Grosvenor Road, stopping off for a pint of Sharp’s Doom Bar (£3.35) in the Grosvenor Arms, a typical Greene King pub, weirdly decorated like a cross between an hotel lounge and a small town museum.

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It’s just gone six o’clock and I amble back towards the railway station and cross over the road into Beatrice Avenue, a clichéd, leafy, suburban street of detached houses with Tudorbethan gables. I half expect to see a Reggie Perrin. The ‘Goldstar Ground’ and Dellwood Avenue, home of Felixstowe & Walton United, runs off Beatrice Avenue and is much the same, but it’s got bungalows too. There are two stewards in day-glo waistcoats at the entrance to the club car park, clearly tonight’s game is a big one. I crunch my way across the beach-like car park, past the old club house which stands forgotten, forlorn and falling apart; there are tiles missing from its roof and the paint is peeling from its weather boarded walls. It could look good if restored as a cricket pavilion, but as it is it looks like it might soon be offering up spare parts for allotment sheds.

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The turnstiles have only been open a few minutes and there is no queue, only an array of signs, one of which refers to ‘Spectator Balls’ and would seem to be purely for comedic effect. I pay my £6 entry fee and collect a programme (£1.50) from a man sat at a foldaway table. I head towards the swish new club house, a low brick building with black timber cladding, which only opened at the start of the season; it sits behind a tarmac area in the shade of a row of small trees like a French town square. I make for the snack bar and order a chip buttie (£2 – ticket no 57) and very good it is too, with lots of crinkle cut chips served in a little cardboard box. I sit and eat at a Yogi bear-style picnic table and gain amusement from the pre-match music play list; Dancing Queen (Abba) ; Since You’ve Been Gone (Rainbow) Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen); The Boys Are Back In Town (Thin Lizzie) and so on. It’s no surprise when the stadium announcer sounds like Mike Smash, drawing out the final syllables of every sentence. Someone needs to tell him it’s no longer 1980.
Finding Keith, my driver for the night, already ensconced in the stand with his sidekick Jim, I offer to get them a drink; two coffees (£1 each) and I pop into the bar, a plain but 27966581938_1353fc665e_odurable looking room, for a pint of Guinness (£3.50), but am very, very disappointed that there is no real ale, not even Greene King IPA. I return to Keith and Jim and settle down in a seat for the evening as the crowds begin to roll in, gathering mostly in the area in front of the bar, but fanning out all around the perimeter fence too. Both Felixstowe and Coggeshall have already secured promotion to Bostik Division One North, but if Coggeshall win tonight they will be Champions; if Felixstowe win they will go top of the league and could clinch the Championship on Saturday. The excitement is palpable and clearly worth six quid of several people’s money. The eventual crowd will eventually be announced as 1,541, easily the biggest attendance in the Eastern Counties League this season and possibly since the 1960’s and nearly 700 more than watched Morecambe play Colchester United earlier this season in the fourth division.
Kick-off is delayed for five minutes because there are still queues at the turnstiles but referee Mr Aaron Farmer seems keen to get on as the teams appear on time to go through all that handshaking malarkey. The teams are announced over the PA in the style of a bingo caller. “On his o-w-n, Numb-e-r One, Dann–y Cruuuuump”, except he didn’r say “On his o-w-n”, sadly.. Felixstowe & Walton United being “The Seasiders”, it is entirely possible that their stadium announcer’s day-job is on the pier. The teams line up and we wait about as the swirly, impatient sounds of Fat Boy Slims “Right Here, Right Now” build the sense of occasion; I always think that that tune should be played at bus stops and on station platforms in the minutes leading up to arrival and departure.
Eventually, Coggeshall Town kick off in the direction of Woodbridge wearing a change kit of all blue with white sleeves, which makes them look rather fetchingly like the mighty Ipswich Town, a good omen for them surely. Felixstowe & Walton United meanwhile model their customary Signal toothpaste inspired design of red and white striped shirts with red shorts and socks; they are kicking towards the town and the North Sea. Fat Boy Slim breaks off abruptly, but not before the game has started.

Coggeshall start well and quickly have a shot on goal, the Felixstowe goalkeeper Danny Crump making a diving save from Coggeshall’s number ten Ross Wall and the Seedgrowers win an early corner. Coggeshall get forward well, particularly down the left wing with Aaron Cosgrove, but gradually Felixstowe edge back, although their play is more about just getting the ball into the box. There are a few chants of “Sea-Sea-Seasiders” mostly from the area in front of the bar, but not as many as you might expect from a crowd of this size. Behind the goal at the ’Woodbridge end’ a loan voice occasionally bellows support for Felixstowe.
Coggeshall are looking the better team, but it still surprises me when Jamie Shaw heads Coggeshall into the lead from a Curtis Haynes Brown cross; the ball is seemingly cleared off the goal line but the linesman signals that the ball had crossed the line. This LAR (Linesman Assisted Referee) system really works. Then Coggeshall score again, Aaron Cosgrove displaying the sort of skill that on the night is setting Coggeshall apart from their rivals. Barely twenty minutes have been played, the night is young, it isn’t even dark yet.
The goals dampen the crowd’s ardour, but the game is played at a furious pace so there is still excitement aplenty as muscular tackles and thundering hoofs are punctuated by occasional flashes of pace and skill and a booking for each team. Felixstowe spectacularly hit the Coggeshall bar with a shot from Boardley and then a cross into the box from a free-kick is swept in from close range by Felixstowe captain Rhys Barber. It’s 2-1 to Coggeshall as everyone breaks ranks for half-time and many of us discover that the two urinals and one toilet in the clubhouse aren’t enough tonight. I take a walk around the ground to take in the sights as daylight rapidly fades and is swapped for floodlight and the unique atmosphere of the night match. Such a big crowd stood on the grass beneath the trees, it feels more like Bonfire Night.
Returning to my seat just in time for the re-start, the ground is now transformed by the floodlights. The grass seems to glow beneath the dark blue sky and backdrop of lofty trees. The score line is finely poised. It’s five to nine and once again Coggeshall’s Aaron Cosgrove runs at speed at the Felixstowe defence, this time at its very heart. Cosgrove is tripped by Dan Davis who is booked for his efforts and Conor Hubble arcs a glorious free-kick over the defensive wall in to the top left hand corner of the Felixstowe goal. Not long later Cosgrove is tripped again, this time in the penalty area, and Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson makes the score 4-1 from the spot.
Felixstowe substitute Jamal Wiggins still manages to get a second goal for Felixstowe from close range and then the game changes into a lower gear. Half chances come and go but Coggeshall are largely in control. In the stand some of the spectators betray their loss of hope, appealing desperately and randomly to players, the referee and anyone in earshot. “Keep the ball!”, “Put it up there!” “What’s he doing now? Booking the ball?” More players of both teams are booked and the referee becomes equally unpopular with both sets of supporters, as is only right. One voice has given up on goals and just wants Coggeshall players booked for swearing; has he never been to a football match before I wonder. The best of the game has passed, but it remains exciting nevertheless and Keith and I speculate about the damaged greenhouses and cold frames in the gardens of the detached houses beyond the far touch line, as numerous balls are booted out of the ground.
The crowd thins out as it becomes evident that Felixstowe will not win, and they don’t. Coggeshall Town are champions of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League and the game ends in a burst of deserved and prolonged applause for both teams.
It’s novel to see a team win something, it’s not something that as an Ipswich Town supporter I have witnessed lately and I have had to experience the joy of winning trophies vicariously through other clubs. Tonight has been memorable.

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Lowestoft Town 2 Kingstonian 1

It’s a one and a half hour journey by rail from Ipswich to Lowestoft on a chugging two-carriage diesel. Leaving at 12:17 the train arcs around the north of Ipswich giving a fine view across the town as it crosses Norwich Road and Bramford Road; the cluster of tower blocks in the town centre and on the waterfront look impressive and the floodlights mark out Portman Road as a football ground that still looks like football grounds should do, with lights at each corner, even if on steel sticks not pylons.
Leaving Ipswich, the train, which smells of cheese, possibly parmesan, which means it probably smells of sick, trundles on to Woodbridge23852564398_4a7a82ae49_o and Melton past Westerfield and through disused Bealings station. On into the Suffolk countryside the ride becomes more and more rural. It’s a journey for geographers, biologists and historians as we pass through sands and boulder clays, marshes and broads, passing cows and horses, pigs and sheep, an albino pheasant, partridges, ash and oak, gorse and broom, flint churches, a World War 2 pill box and thatched cottages. Football fans who know what they’re looking for can spot the floodlights of Woodbridge Town Football Club, and further up the line  College Meadow, where Beccles Town are destined to lose 0-3 at home to Debenham in the Suffolk Senior Cup later this afternoon, is right next to the station.
The train stops at Woodbridge, Melton, Campsea Ashe for Wickham Market, Saxmundham, Darsham, Halesworth, Brampton (request stop only), Beccles and Oulton Broad South; as if taking an inventory of rustic place names. Large stretches of the line still produce the old-fashioned clickety-clack of the railway track; near Brampton two people stood in a field wave and I wave back imagining they are Jenny Agutter and Sally Thomsett; a child at the table in front bawls, a mother accuses and a whining sibling pleads innocence; it was a game that went wrong. A John Deere tractor tills a massive field, the train passes37448300030_dc11d0db12_o under towering pylons marching two by two from Sizewell nuclear power station whose dome is visible in the distance over the tops of trees; there’s a windmill and wind turbines. This is a wonderful journey on a beautiful, bright autumn day.
Leaving Oulton Broad South the approaches to Lowestoft soon follow; a bleak landscape of seemingly disused dock on one side,

a huge Aldi and retail park on the other. Lowestoft station is at the centre of the town, at37656994766_a846c3409e_o the bottom of the High Street. It’s the end of the line and it looks it, a handsome Victorian building that’s too big for the two lines that host the buses on rails that rattle in through wonderful East Anglian landscapes from both Ipswich and Norwich. It’s a town that has undoubtedly seen better days, it expanded in the late nineteenth century on the back of industrial scale fishing, an unsustainable activity like coal mining and as that industry declined so the town lost its raison d’etre. It had other industries such as bus body building (Eastern Coachworks) but with the de-nationalisation of bus travel that closed too.
It’s just a ten minute walk from Lowestoft railway station to Lowestoft Town’s stadium via Katwijk Way, onto Raglan Street and then left into the charmingly named Love Road.36995695774_414a0e9c77_o The streets are of terraced houses and even a couple of back street boozers, an alleyway runs down the back of the main stand; this is a proper football ground with a vista of chimney pots and residential roof tops. You can see where the supporters live here, not where they buy their weekly groceries, or go bowling and to the cinema. Lowestoft Town have been at Crown Meadow since 1894.

However, before getting to the ground I take a diversion to the excellent Triangle Tavern on the Triangle Market at the top of the High Street. It’s not far from the stadium and serves beers brewed by Lowestoft’s own Green Jack Brewery. I have a pint of Lurcher Stout (£3.30) and a little while later a pint of Bramble Bitter (£3.00); both good, but the Lurcher was easily my favourite. There are twelve other drinkers in the bar where I sit and I think eleven of them are older than me. Four are sat around a table, all drinking halves. Three sit in a row,37705881601_7f80655d17_o talking occasionally but also reading and another three, one of whom sports a Kingstonian shirt, sit at a table by the door. One of the Kingstonian group looks at least 70 and surprises me by suddenly mentioning Depeche Mode, although he seems to think David Sylvian was lead singer and is quickly corrected by the wearer of the shirt. I bemoan to myself that the conversation between the sort of blokes who frequent real-ale pubs often sounds like they are just waiting for the pub-quiz to start.

In Love Road, the away team bus, which is called Elaine Mary, is bumped on the kerb opposite the stadium;

I approach the smart blue turnstile block beneath a sign that says “Welcome to the 37673670372_c6fe6fed60_oAmber Dew Events Stadium”; it should say that it’s real and lasting name is Crown Meadow but it doesn’t. “What is it? A tenner?” I ask of the lady turnstile operator. “Eleven” she says, adding “If you’re an adult, are you?” I laugh, “Nooo, I’m not an adult” I say perhaps a little too sarcastically, but later I think maybe she thought I’m a pensioner. I reckon £11 to watch non-league, part-time football is a bit steep, and although it’s no more than other clubs charge at this level, in France it cost less (9 Euros) to watch a fully professional match (Nimes v Auxerre)  in Ligue 2. C’est la vie. Just inside the turnstile programmes are sold from a table for £2, I buy one.
Whilst I’m not thirsty anymore, I am hungry and after exploring the earthly delights of the club shop I head to the far end of the ground to the food kiosk.37657008196_83b263619d_o Inside the kiosk a middle aged man attends the deep fat fryer and a young woman takes the money, whilst surreally a second older man is asleep on a chair.37657008666_744983181f_o From the usual football food menu I opt for the ‘hot dog’ (£3.50), which consists of two very ordinary sausages with onions (optional), in what turns out to be a very crumbly

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finger roll; I can’t recommend it. It takes a while to cook the sausages and the teams have come on to the pitch, been through all that hand shaking ‘respect’ stuff and kicked off before I take my first bite. Kingstonian are in red and white hooped shirts with black shorts and socks whilst Lowestoft, who kick-off the game towards Love Road and the dock, are in all-blue. Lowestoft Town are nowadays known as the Trawlerboys, but their shirts are sadly not sponsored by Fisherman’s Friend cough sweets, but by ‘Africa Alive’, which I believe was once more prosaically known as the Kessingland Wildlife Park.
The game is evenly contested early on, to the extent that neither team looks likely to go on and win. Although Lowestoft do hit the cross bar, not much else is happening near the goals, but it holds my attention in bursts. The Kingstonian number five Michell Gough stands out, mostly because of his hair, which might be described as pirate-like or a bitOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA girlie depending on your point of view, but also because he is very involved in the game and hits a decent long pass. It is probably a good thing that men are once again comfortable wearing a pony tail, but I’m glad that a rubber band or scrunchy did not deny me the sight of the flowing locks of Mario Kempes, Kevin Beattie and Gunter Netzer back in the 1970’s. For Lowestoft, their number eleven Cruise Nyadzyo seems keen to get the ball forward, but too often his crosses pick out no one in particular. I multi-task by walking around the ground and watching the match at the same time. A steward eyes me suspiciously. There is a country bus shelter type structure behind the far goal which sports on its back wall a trawler-shaped memorial plaque to one Ted Lightfoot.

Three Kingstonian fans occupy the shelter and muse upon whether they comprise the smallest group of Kingstonian fans ever assembled behind a goal for a Kingstonian first team match. Along the long side of the pitch opposite the mainstand are the dug-outs; the Lowestoft manager, bald headed and in a black tracksuit is very mobile, swearing violently to himself when one of his players fails to live up to his expectations.

Above the dug-outs a camera loft looks like it could double up as a hide for birdwatchers on the nearby Broads. I linger for as long as it takes me to get bored with hearing the word ‘fuckin’. Moving on I can see the blades of a wind-turbine over the top of the stand opposite. I pass behind the goal at the Love Road end, squeezing between a wall and the row of mostly younger Lowestoft Town supporters pressed up against the rail.

It’s approaching half-time and I settle in a gap between spectators stood against the wall in front of the main stand. “Hello Peter, how are ya?” says a cheery Suffolk-accented voice. “I int sin ya for ages” he continues. “Well, I sin your boy” says Peter, adding a further layer of mystery to the conversation. It turns out Peter and his friend who hasn’t seen him in a while are also Ipswich Town fans. Peter’s friend has been taking the train to Ipswich to watch matches and keeps Tuesdays free for midweek games, which is why he is annoyed that the Sheffield Wednesday match has been moved to a Wednesday night. “Bloody Sky tv” he says “they’re ruining the game” and he voices the thoughts of football supporters everywhere.

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There will be two minutes of added on time at the end of the first half which is time enough for Kingstonian’s number four Paul Rogers to clear the ball and in so doing raise a boot too close to the face of the Trawlerboys’ number five and captain Travis Cole, who makes me think of Malcolm McDowell in Lindsey Anderson’s marvellous film “If”. Travis keeps touching his face and looking for blood, clearly suffering from the weird form of hypochondria that affects all footballers when anything brushes by their pretty faces. The consequence is that referee Mr Quick wastes no time in booking the slightly unfortunate Rogers and awarding a penalty to the home team, which is scored by number nine Jake Reed. Emboldened by the goal, there are a few shouts of “Come on you Blues” from the home supporters, one of whom has a bass drum. But half-time swiftly follows and I return to the scene of the crumbling hot dog to obtain a pounds worth of tea, which comes in a much larger cup than at other grounds I’ve been to, but it doesn’t taste particularly nice; I think it’s the fault of the slightly waxy paper cups. Back in front of the main stand ‘Woody’, a large bear dressed like Uncle Sam, patrols with his minder encouraging people to visit Pleasurewood Hills, a local theme park.  As things stand Woody is a viable United States president.   I look through the match programme and am a little disturbed that the advert for the stadium sponsor, Amber Dew Events, features a picture of a partially squashed ant, albeit a partially squashed ant inside a piece of amber. 37733059866_c1ac726a82_o
For the start of the second half I choose to sit in the main stand, just in front of the area reserved for the club officials; the only people in the ground wearing suits and club ties.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I want to tell them to relax, grow their hair, wear shades and a beret; they surely only dress like they do so people know that they are the club officials. I smile to myself. The main stand is a lovely, low, gloomy structure with a deep, grey fascia beneath the roof and glass screens at either end. Inside the stand there are no plastic seats like those found at most grounds; here they have the original cast iron frames with beautifully mellowed, curved wooden backs and wooden tip up seats. The stand has no stanchions to block your view suggesting it might be of  a cantilever design, in which case it was an early one.  Despite lashings of blue paint, it’s dull and utilitarian; but it’s beautiful and a candidate for local listing by Waveney District Council. Club officials in de-mob suits, brogues and fedoras, and smoking pipes would not look out of place in this stand.
The second half begins and from my newly elevated position I finish my tea and enjoy37448276580_f8acd4d810_o the burst of sunlight that breaks through the mass of cloud that started to hang low over Lowestoft this afternoon whilst I was in the Triangle Tavern. For all its beauty, this stand is on the wrong side of the pitch and a hundred or more people squint in unison. There are more shouts of “Come On You Blues” as people sense victory is possible, but this seems to make some older supporters sat behind me a bit tetchy too. Mr Quick the referee receives some mild abuse for one or two of his decisions and there is clearly a belief that the world and in particular Mr Quick is against Lowestoft. But according to Wikipedia, this is a town with three UKIP councillors, so fear and a lack of logic are common currency.
The folks behind me are full of advice for the team; “Pass to Smudger”, “Too Late”, “ You shudda passed to Smudger”, “ Get a grip Blues”, “ What did you give it away for Blues?”, “Give it to someone who can put their foot on the ball”. It’s odd, but I must have seen more than two thousand football matches in my time and I’ve never seen anyone gain any advantage by just putting their foot on the ball, but there are still people who seem convinced that it is an effective tactic. I did see Arnold Muhren put his foot on the ball, drag it back and then release a thirty metre pass of pinpoint accuracy, but I don’t think that is quite the same thing.
The game rolls on and way off to the right I can see the copper spire of Lowestoft’s parish church, the Grade One listed St Margaret’s. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOblivious of medieval flintwork the  commentary continues from from behind me, particularly when Cruise Nyadzyo is substituted; it’s not a popular decision. The view seems to be that he was the best player on the pitch. Things don’t get any better in the eyes of the mainstanders as Kingstonian’s Thomas Derry strikes the cross-bar with a header from a corner. But taking the best player off seems to have no lasting effect, perhaps it makes the other players work harder, and soon afterwards a low right-wing cross from Lowestoft’s number eight Sam Borrer is easily kicked into the Kingstonian net from close range by Jake Reed and Lowestoft lead 2-0. Going further behind seems to be just what Kingstonian needed to do however, in order to raise their game and they eventually score a goal too, from a free-kick off the head of number five Michell Gough. The remainder of the game involves Kingstonian trying to equalise and Lowestoft trying not to concede. I leave my seat to stand closer to the exit because when the final whistle blows it won’t leave long to get to the railway station for the 17:07 train. Eventually at 16:58 Mr Quick calls time and I sprint off down Love Road leaving the victorious Trawlerboys behind me; I make it onto the train with nearly three minutes to spare.
It has been a good day out, a day of many pleasures; a scenic train ride, fine local beers, blue skies, sunshine and clouds, a football ground set amongst terraced houses and back alleys, an old-fashioned grandstand and a half decent football match, which isn’t bad for a depressed town with the highest unemployment rates in Suffolk. Visit Lowestoft, it needs you.