Plymouth Argyle 1 Ipswich Town 2

I am a little ashamed to admit it, but I have only ever been to Home Park, the sensibly named home of Plymouth Argyle, twice.  The first occasion was in August 1987 for an evening fixture, when after a seemingly interminable coach journey from Portman Road I witnessed a goalless draw.   Then, at the start of 2005 I returned, this time by car, to enjoy a 2-1 victory courtesy of Darren Currie as Town went top of the league but, as ever, ultimately failed to achieve promotion.  My memories of Plymouth therefore are on the whole not disagreeable, although if the city has memories of me they might not all be as positive. My very first visit to the city of Plymouth was in the summer of 1966 when on a family holiday. My father was in the Royal Navy and serving on HMS Tiger at the time and the ship happened to be in Plymouth dockyard; he took us aboard and I vomited on the wardroom carpet.  Given that the eleven thousand ton cruiser was in harbour I can’t blame sea sickness, it was more a surfeit of free peanuts from what I remember.

Today, I have not eaten any peanuts but for a pre-match snack enjoy a handful of Nairn’s ‘naturally nutritious’ rough oatcakes with some Cheddar and Port Salut cheese. My pre-match ‘pint’ is a 440 ml can of Brewdog Double Punk, today’s offering from my beer advent calendar; a different beer every day until Christmas.  Feeling sociable, perhaps because the beer has alcohol by volume of 8.2%, and having half an eye on Troyes v Paris FC in French Ligue 2, which my wife Paulene is watching on tv using an Amazon Firestick, I settle down on the two-seater blue leather sofa in the living room.  With a plastic earpiece in place I tune into Radio Suffolk on my Sony 310 transistor radio in time to hear the tail end of a pre-match summary of this afternoon’s encounter between Stowmarket Town and Eynesbury in the FA Vase.  My attention is grabbed by the fact that former Ipswich Town starlet and Bermudan international Reggie Lambe is appearing for Stowmarket.  Reggie Lambe has always retained a high profile in my football memory, possibly not because of his on-field exploits so much as the fact that he sounds like he could also be a cuddly character from an undiscovered episode of Watch with Mother.

The reportage from Home Park begins with a replay of commentary from 2008 in which commentator Brenner Woolley became very excited about two goals from Owen Garvan and one from Kevin Lisbie; as well he might.  After reference to the 976 kilometre round trip from Ipswich, although Brenner archaically quotes the distance in miles, we are introduced to the glorious West Country burr of this afternoon’s co-commentator Marcus Stewart; in the week that David Prowse died it seems a fitting tribute.  Brenner sarcastically speaks of the receding sound of the ‘loudest PA system in the country’ as Town’s goalkeeper, who he refers to as “Dai” Cornell, leads the Town team on to the pitch.  Marcus Stewart meanwhile says that it is time for everyone to “get onside and support the club and get behind the club”.  I will admit that I did not know that as well as being closer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent, it is also possible to be offside by not being behind the club.

Very quickly Marcus tells us that he is going to put his “head on the block” as he predicts that there will be goals in this game.  I can’t help feeling that he is sounding hopeful when he suggests that if he is wrong it might be the last time he is asked to ‘appear’ on Radio Suffolk.  The opening minutes of the game sound entertaining as Brenner relays to us that there is “Good play from Town”, that Home Park is “sunny but blowy” and that “Woolfenden seems to have had a haircut”.   “Wrong decision” says Marcus in the assertive style of tv’s Kirtan Mucklowe as an Argyle player picks the wrong pass.  The commentary briefly takes the form of a conversation “Very open, Marcus” says Brenner. “End to end” replies Marcus, who a short while later provides some interesting tactical analysis about full-backs having more time on the ball when playing against a 4-3-3 formation, and being able to push forward.    Brenner meanwhile talks up the promise of goals for Town against Plymouth. “Only Swindon and Burton have conceded more goals” he says.  It’s a fact that shows Brenner has been assiduous in his research again, but personally I just love to hear the names of un-related English provincial towns in the same sentence; it makes me think of railway lines and town halls, local papers and building societies.

The thirteenth minute passes and seemingly out of not very much Plymouth score through Luke Jephcott.  “Good finish in terms of build-up play” says Marcus a little confusingly “ Plymouth again pinging the ball around” he adds.  Disappointed that what had sounded like a reasonable start to the game has taken the familiar wrong turn I take a mouthful of my beer, which because of its alcoholic strength has lived beyond it’s original ‘pre-match pint’ billing.  “Mmmm” I say to Paulene “This is a very fruity beer”.  What sort of fruit?” she asks.  Caught off guard by this question I make up something   “Oh, just a generic sort of fruit” I say, but she demands more detail. “Pineapple, banana?” She asks. “Yes” I reply “and apple, pear, mango, raspberry, kiwi fruit, lychee”.  “What about grapes, cherries and star fruit?” asks Paulene. “Yes”, I say “and strawberry, tomato, orange”.  “Melon, plum, papaya?” asks Paulene, “Yeah, and cranberry, blackberry, damson, even a hint of brazil nut.” 

Our listing of the world’s fruits is interrupted as I hear Brenner say “any fixture at the moment seems to be tricky for Ipswich” before mentioning “mitigating factors”.   Then all of a sudden Kayden Jackson is through on goal. “No excuses, should be 1-1” says Brenner as Kayden is tackled “We’ll be looking back on that through very painful eyes” continues Brenner, all too easily imagining the scenario in which Town fail to score and adding un-diagnosed medical problems to the mix for good measure.  “Just as he cocked his leg to take the shot – good defending” adds Marcus trying to describe what happened, but making Jackson sound a bit like a dog beneath a lamp post.

Despite the current score line I remain optimistic.  “Ward invited to come forward” says Brenner of Town’s left-back , creating an image in my head of Plymouth players ushering Ward along or handing him little cards with RSVP on the bottom.   Brenner soon engages Marcus in conversation again, “Jephcott’s a strong boy isn’t he Marcus?”  “Like a little bulldog” replies Marcus clearly still trying to develop his canine analogies.  Despite a lull in play around half past three which forces Brenner into telling us that there is very little happening, the consensus between the two commentators seems to be that it’s an entertaining game.  “ Town don’t look like a team short on confidence” says Brenner before unleashing a combination of stats upon the listeners about how many wins Town have had in the past five games (one) and how many points they’ve taken from the past ten games (nine).   The criticism remains implied, but Brenner is careful to explain that this is a “…very young Ipswich Town side” and “needs must at the moment”.

Half-time arrives at fourteen minutes to four and Marcus repeats that “There is goals in this game” which he has found “thoroughly entertaining”.  It’s left to Brenner to encourage me to return for the second half, “This game could be anything.  There could be a comeback for Ipswich Town, or it could be 3-0 to Plymouth”.  As insightful summaries go it fits well into either of the “Hedging one’s bets” or the “Why the hell are you asking me?” categories.

I enjoy a half-time of putting the kettle on, shutting and locking the garage door, drawing the blinds and closing the curtains.  Troyes have beaten Paris FC 2-1 with Paris having a spectacular volleyed ‘goal’ in the seventh minute of time added-on disallowed for dangerous play (jeu dangereux).  Troyes replace Paris FC at the top of Ligue 2 on goal difference and Paulene re-tunes the Amazon Firestick for the Ligue 1 game at Parc Roazhon between Stade Rennais and Racing Club de Lens.  I reflect that Home Park is only 402 kilometres from Rennes by sea and road, which is almost 90 kilometres closer than it is to Portman Road. 

Carelessly, I miss the re-start at Home Park and re-join the game just as little Alan Judge makes a “suicidal pass”, which almost gives Luke Jephcott a second goal.  Brenner moves on to speak of Newport County, Cheltenham Town and Exeter City all doing well in the fourth division this season and the prospect of further trips west next season,  clearly suggesting he has already given up on hopes of Town being promoted. “Cambridge would be a nice short trip” he adds, adopting the outlook of the Radio Suffolk accountant.

It doesn’t sound like Town are having many shots on goal ,but the game remains open and Brenner is moved to tell us that “ There is still no way of knowing what the full-time score will be”, which is frankly somewhat obvious unless he has access to some sort of Old Mother Woolley figure who has a crystal ball.  “Strong young lads” says Brenner of Jephcott and McGuinness, introducing an unexpected frisson of homo-eroticism as the game enters its final 25 minutes.  Jack Lankester and Brett McGavin are replaced by the weirdly named Keanan Bennetts,  and Oliver Hawkins.

It’s the seventieth minute and I am told that Plymouth’s Danny Mayor has “kicked the feet away” from Town’s Armando Dobra, a player who is Albanian and whose name incidentally rhymes with Enver Hoxha the former Communist leader of Albania.  Mayor is booked for a second time in the match and is therefore sent off.  Quickly following on, former Town player Frank Nouble is booked also, but only for the first time; “Getting a yellow card for verbals” says Brenner , incorrectly using the word ‘verbals’, which actually refers to different forms of verbs rather than bad language; we should expect the BBC’s broadcasters to know this sort of thing.  Marcus or Brenner, I’m not sure which, now tells us that against ten men we are going to have a lot of the ball, we just have to do something with it.   Seconds later, Paulene cheers as over in France Lens take the lead through eighteen year old Arnaud Kalimuendo Muinga and then in what is turning out to be a very busy three minutes Town take those words about doing something with the ball to heart and equalise. “Nolan shoots, he scores says Brenner succinctly.  “A great volley” confirms Marcus.  Within a minute I am hearing Brenner say “Hawkins chests it down and Jackson scores” and Town lead 2-1.  “Yay” I shout from my reclining position on the blue leather sofa.  This is the most fun I’ve had since last February.

To add to my enjoyment Brenner tells me that the 1800 Plymouth fans who have been allowed into the ground are “really aggravated” and in the background I hear them bawling and moaning in a real life version of people in supporters groups on the interweb.  The final fifteen minutes and injury time pass in a parade of observations from Brenner and Marcus.  “ … keep playing forward like they ‘ave been doing” is Marcus’s recipe for success as he turns up his West Countryness a notch . “ Ill-discipline from Watts” says Brenner revelling in another booking for a Plymouth player. “Fans getting disgruntled” adds Marcus picking up Brenner’s theme before sounding a note of caution with “Dangerous times now”.   Marcus’s voice is becoming increasingly gravelly, as if he’s been chain smoking Woodbines and slugging whisky all afternoon; he sounds like a Somerset Jimmy Durante.

It is evident that Plymouth are succeeding in getting back into the game. “Decent effort on goal from Hardy” says Brenner before ramping up the tension and pessimism with “This‘ll be a massive disappointment if Town draw this one”.   He carries on in similar vein by validating those listeners surprised that Town aren’t losing with “Town ahead; if you lost faith earlier in the game and thought here we go again”.   It doesn’t get any better; “Plymouth close – over the bar” and “Not pleasant viewing at the moment” before Brenner perhaps tries to lighten the mood with “Two players with similar pinkie-orange footwear on the far side” as full-time approaches.  The pretty-much statutory four minutes of additional time will be added.  The four minutes pass and Town win.

I am elated. After foolishly depressing myself by reading the ‘opinions’ of people on social media in the wake of two recent defeats and a draw, I am now ecstatic that Town have won and this afternoon I feel like I have travelled to Plymouth and back, played the match and wilfully thrown up on the wardroom carpet of every warship in Plymouth harbour.

Perhaps Town will lose again next Saturday, perhaps they won’t, but that’s what football teams do, they win, they lose and they draw and the margins between those three outcomes are small.  This season Ipswich Town have won more than we have lost, today we won, life is sweet.

Paris FC 2 FC Metz 1

DSC00331It is a cloudy, autumn Saturday afternoon as my wife Paulene and I board the RER suburban, electric, double-decker train at Meudon Val Fleury for the short journey (2.05 euros each) to Pont du Garigliano from where it is a further twenty-five minute tram ride (1.90 euros each) down busy, tree-lined boulevards to Stade Charlety, the current home ground of Paris FC. Today at 3 o’clock Paris FC will play FC Metz in Domino’s Pizza Ligue 2. If you plan your journey on the website of RATP, the Parisian transport company, several options are listed according to whether you want the quickest journey, the one with fewest changes, the one with least walking or one which provides disabled access. But with every route the website tells you the amount of CO2 emissions for your journey, our journey ‘cost’ 29 grams compared to a colossal 1758 grams by car; it’s Martin & Paulene 1 Global Warming 0 and the match hasn’t even started.DSC00220
It may be a grey day, but this is Paris, City of Lights and perhaps appropriately therefore the stadium floodlights are already shining as the tram draws up at the stop. On the next street, the Boulevard Jourdan is lined with the white vans of the Police Nationale and on the opposite corner the Le Gentilly bar and restaurant is surrounded by dark uniformed

police with riot shields and helmets. The Le Gentilly appears to be the chosen pre-match meeting place for the fans of today’s visiting team FC Metz who are top of Ligue 2 having won all of their seven games so far this season. In 2016 the Metz v Lyon game was abandoned after Metz supporters threw firecrackers at the Lyon goalkeeper, so they have ‘previous’. But the police presence still looks like overkill for what is a Second Division match at a club whose home crowds do not often exceed 3,000.
We hadn’t got around to buying tickets on-line so we pay a bit more and buy our tickets (15 euros each) at the guichets at the entrance to the stadium. We take a wander around, making a circuit of the stadium; spotting the respective team buses, Metz fans queuing

 

for tickets (only 8 Euros in the away ‘end’) and even more ‘tooled-up’ police. On a concrete support beneath the Peripherique is a poster for the Union PopulaireDSC00221 Republicain, a sort of French UKIP who peddle the somewhat stupid sounding ‘Frexit’, not that it’s any more or less stupid than ‘Brexit’.
Stade Charlety is named after the French historian and academic Sebastien Charlety who was associated with the nearby Cite Universite de Paris. Naming a sports stadium after an intellectual is pretty much unimaginable in England; just think of West Ham United not playing at the London Stadium but at the AJP Taylor Stadium or Tottenham at the Simon Schama Stadium. Stade Charlety dates originally from 1938 but was re-built in 1994, the architects being Henri Gaudin and his son Bruno, and a damn fine job they did too. The stadium is oval in shape, a segmented concrete bowl, partly single and partly two-tiered, sitting beneath a sweeping, curving, rising and falling roof floating on steel supports, with four floodlight towers each leaning and raking forward as if to peer over the roof at the pitch. The stadium has 20,000 seats and conveys the drama, excitement and sense of occasion that a stadium should.DSC00209
Keen now to experience the stadium from the inside we walk through the turnstiles and our tickets are scanned by hand held devices before we are patted down and wished “Bon match” in the habitual way of French football. In a corner at the back of a stand is a very talented and entertaining band of five brass players and a drummer providing a soundtrack to the pre-match build-up. We both pick up copies of the free eight pageDSC00223 colour match programme (only one page is an advertisement) and are each given a free Paris FC flag. I reflect on how I have been a season ticket holder at Portman Road for 35 years and as ‘thanks’ for my loyalty and thousands of pounds all the club has ever given me is a baseball hat, a metal badge and a car sticker; I’ve been here less than five minutes and on the strength of just one 15 euros ticket Paris FC have already given me a programme and a flag. I like that the programme is called ‘Le Petit Parisian’ making a virtue of Paris FC’s ‘small club’ credentials, a poignant contrast no doubt to the behemoth that is Paris St Germain. According to Planete Foot magazine, Paris FC drew average crowds of just 3,070 last season and this season have a budget of 11 million euros compared to PSG’s budget of about 560 million euros; this against a background of PSG having evolved out of Paris FC as a ‘breakaway’ club in 1972.
Bowled over by Gallic generosity and with hearts lifted by the music of the little band we head for gangway 109 off which we can sit where we choose. Seats chosen I head back into the concourse and to the buvette to buy a bag of crisps (2 euros) and plastic cups of mineral water and Orangina (5 euros for the two, including the re-usable Paris FC branded cups). Paris FC has no club shop as you might find at an English league club or at the larger French clubs, but there is a hatch between the buvettes from which two young Franco-African women are selling replica shirts, scarves and assorted merchandise. Unable to resist a souvenir I buy a pennant or petit fanion (5 euros) which, when I get back to Blighty I shall hang it in the toilet with all the others.
Back at our seats the quarter of the stadium behind the dug-outs is filling up with flag toting Parisians and a sprinkling of Metz fans, who probably live in Paris. The Metz fans who have made the 330km journey from Alsace are all corralled on the other side of the stadium in a section of the upper tier, with a battalion of stewards and police seemingly watching their every move. As three o’clock approaches the public address system begins to play a sort of minimalist electronica with hints of John Barry, which gathers pace, building as the teams walk side by side onto the pitch to shake hands before a back drop of huge banners showing the club crests and the Domino’s Pizza Ligue 2 logo. A man in aDSC00234 suit, Paris FC scarf and pointy shoes, who looks a bit like the late Keith Chegwin parades before us with a radio mike as he announces the teams.
The teams line up with Metz in a change kit of all white and Paris FC in all navy blue. FC Metz kick-off playing in the direction of the tram stop, and generally north towards the Pompidou Centre far beyond, whilst Paris FC play towards Orly airport. From the start Metz are neat and energetic, passing well and closing Paris FC down quickly whenever they win the ball. In front of us and to our right a group of thirty or forty Ultras (possibly the ‘Old Clan’ group) are rallied by a young bloke with a small white megaphone which looks 44906431821_ffcf83e1cb_olike it is only a toy. He faces his colleagues and misses virtually the whole game. The Ultras stand and clap and sing without pause and one of them bangs a drum. “P -F -C, P-F-C” they chant, for that is how Paris FC are commonly known. One guy has a beer in his hand meaning he can’t clap, so he just slaps his head with his free hand, taking a second to tidy his hair when he’s finished.
Despite Metz looking the more accomplished team they don’t test the Paris goalkeeper and it is the home team who manage the first decent shot at goal from number twenty-six Dylan Saint-Louis, which Metz goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja dives low to his right to save. Metz continue to look confidant and strong but PFC are matching them. It’s only just gone ten past three and PFC left-back, number eighteen Romain Perraud strides forward, he rides a block tackle stumbling over a leg but taking the ball with him and looks to go for goal. He is over twenty metres from Oukidja the man between the Metz goal posts and I don’t expect to see the ball go flying in to the far top corner of the net and dropping to the grass inside the goal, but it does. It is a spectacular goal, easily the best I have seen so far this season. A goal behind, Metz have further troubles as they have to make a substitution and Senegalese Opa Nguette is replaced by Malian Adama Traore due to injury.
Conceding the goal has not dampened the Metz fans’ spirits however, as they continue to wave their own flags and banners. Behind us to our left another group of PFC Ultras DSC00254(possibly the ‘Ultras Lutetia’ group) have their own somewhat bigger drum and bigger flags but no megaphone, well not as far as I can see anyway. A fine drizzle is falling now and the stadium announcer who strutted about in pointy, shiny shoes before kick-off shelters beneath an umbrella. Rain drops run down the back of the transparent covers to the dugouts and it feels every bit like a quintessential autumn afternoon at the football. It’s marvellous and not only because this is Paris.
At last, after over twenty minutes of play Metz manage a shot on target, but it’s an easy save for Vincent Demarconnay the ‘keeper for PFC. Despite Metz’s failings in front of goal they still look a good team and this is an entertaining game, well worthy of the live TV coverage it is receiving this afternoon; the large cameras at the side of each goal look oddly old-fashioned however and conjure memories for me of Grandstand and Sportsnight with Coleman. It’s just gone half past three and Metz win a corner on the far side of the pitch from which their Zambian number thirteen Stoppila Sunzu sends a powerful header down towards the goal line; for a split second it looks like it must be the equaliser but the ball meets the boot of Romain Perraud and skews off his foot for a throw. Perraud has effectively scored twice for Paris now, without him they might be a goal down, rather than a goal up.
Half-time is less than ten minutes away and although they are the underdogs Paris FC are playing well and deserve their lead, then what seems like disaster strikes, compounded by it being a gross injustice. In an incident similar to the sending off of Ipswich Town’s Toto N’Siala at Sheffield Wednesday earlier this season, PFC’s Julian Lopez slides along the wet turf to get the ball, which he does, a moment later however

and Metz’s Thomas Delaine arrives and falls over Lopez‘s leg, twisting as he falls. The referee Monsieur Pierre Gaillouste, who has an annoying and unnecessary habit of running quickly up to players whenever a foul occurs, does so again and shows Lopez the red card. We are all outraged. It was not a foul, if anything Delaine fouled Lopez. As a neutral this should be pure theatre to me, but the injustice is intolerable and I decide that Paris FC must win.
The sending off has distorted the match and I cannot really see that Paris can hold on, but in injury time they win a corner which Metz forget to defend and the wonderfully named Cameroonian defender Frederic Bong heads the ball into the middle of the Metz goal to double PFC’s lead. I leap from my seat and stick it to Monsieur Gaillouste and his inept refereeing. Half-time soon arrives and I can enjoy it. I return to the buvette with the thought of a celebratory beer but the queue is too long.
The game begins again and within a minute Habib Diallo scores for Metz with a header from a cross by Thomas Delaine. I fear the worst for PFC now but Metz fail to capitalise and PFC defend brilliantly. Metz show growing frustration, Traore looks to the heavens as he sends a low, bobbling shot bouncing weakly past a post and Marvin Gakpa is booked after following through with a challenge on the PFC goalkeeper. The Metz coach Frederic Antonetti, a balding, solid man who wears what I would describe as a Marks & Spencer jumper patrols the area in front of his team’s dugout, shaking his head and looking displeased. I think I can smell a cannabis cigarette, but it’s not from Monsieur Antonetti. On the other side of the ground the incidence of flag waving has definitely reduced. Now Renaud Cohade, who I thought was the main force in the Metz midfield is replaced by the Algerian Farid Boulaya and as the electronic substitution board is held aloft Paulene casually asks how many double A batteries I think it takes.
Paris FC are restricted to defending in depth but they are succeeding and cannot expect to do too much else with only ten players against probably the best team in the league. There are still twenty minutes left as PFC’s Ivorian Edmond Akichi, billed in the programme in his own words as a midfield battler goes down and a stretcher is needed to carry him off. Number six Romenique Koumane replaces Akichi but suddenly Akichi is up on his feet again appearing to say he wants to play on, only for him to even more suddenly double-up in pain up clutching his knee before being helped away.
There are less than ten minutes to go and PFC are holding out well and even almost score a third goal as Souleymane Karamoko breaks down the right and into the penalty area; the ball goes out and he goes down. “Penalty!” I cry, because anything has been shown to be possible with this referee, but it’s a corner which number twenty-seven Jonathan Pitroipa, who is from Burkina Faso, heads very wide. There are four minutes of added time to endure, but PFC survive them whilst all Metz do is to collect another booking, this time for Emmanuel Riviere as he flicks a passing foot at the PFC goalkeeper, or at least that’s what the referee thought.
The final whistle brings unbridled joy, something I don’t often experience at football matches any more. This has been an excellent match, one the best of the ten or so I have seen in Ligue 2. I hadn’t expected a lot from a crowd of just a few thousand (the attendance will later be reported as 5,097) in a 20,000 capacity stadium with a running track around the pitch, but I was wrong. Despite swathes of empty seats there has been a really good atmosphere in the small part of the stadium that is open and with minimal stewarding it has felt a bit like an English non-league game. I have loved seeing so many African players, it’s been like a mini African Cup of Nations and Paris FC have played superbly well to beat a good, but on the day ineffective Metz team, who nevertheless remain one of the favourites for promotion. I have nothing in particular against Metz, but it was great to witness their first defeat after seven straight victories. If only my team Ipswich Town could now get their first win.

Meudon AS 0 St Ouen L’Aumone AS 2

Today is the last day of September, my wife Paulene and are staying in Meudon on the edge of Paris, and having enjoyed both professional Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 football in the past week and a bit, watching both Paris FC and Paris St Germain, this afternoon we are getting down with the French equivalent of ‘non-league’. Not much more than ten minutes away by car at the Stade Georges Millandy in Meudon Le Foret (twenty minutes by bus service No 289) is a Coupe de France fourth round tie between Meudon AS of the Ile de Paris regional league Division 3 and St Ouen L’Aumone AS of the Ile de Paris regional league Division 1. These leagues are the 6th and 8th levels of the French football league ladder, although probably not directly comparable to those levels in the English non-league ‘pyramid’.
The parking at the local community sports centre, where the match is to take place is full, so we park our trusty Citroen C3 around the corner in Rue Georges Millandy between large blocks of modern apartments. We are not sure exactly where we are going, but the Federation Football Francais (FFF, the French Football Association) website says this is the where the match is taking place and having walked through a corridor in a sports hall we find ourselves next to an artificial football pitch. There is no turnstile and watching this match is free. A bunch of blokes in tracksuits sit outside a portacabin eating baguettes and drinking coffee. In my exquisite school boy French I ask if this is this is where the Coupe de France game is taking place at 2.30; I am relieved to learn that it is, and flattered that the man I speak to recognises the Ipswich Town crest on my T-shirt. I explain that I am a fan and not from the club itself, but we both quickly make the connection that Ipswich’s Under 18 player Idris El Mazouni is from Meudon. I will later discover that I have been talking to Idris’s dad.
The Stade Georges Millandy is not a stadium as we might understand it in Britain, because it has no stands; it’s just a 3G synthetic pitch with dugouts and a metal fence, overlooked by five or six large, shiny white apartment blocks.

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It wouldn’t make the grade for the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League, although in truth the playing facilities are better than at most clubs in that league. It seems quite new, is in good condition and is the sort of installation that a town the size of Ipswich should probably have at least ten of. Given that these pitches are not cheap to install it is doubly impressive that the surface extends beyond the actual pitch to the area around it, with a mini pitch and goals in the space behind one goal. A game (possibly Under 15s) is

just finishing with a penalty shoot-out and I return to the portacabin, which is a sort of club house and buvette, to get two cups of green tea and a Kit-Kat (all 1 euro each); the tea is poured from a huge pot. On one wall is a large array of trophies won by all age groups within the club.

Paulene and I wander around the pitch as we drink our tea and I scoff a Kit-Kat trying to remember why Nestle products were boycotted and if they still should be; too late now, I have become complicit in their multi-national nastiness. It is a beautiful, bright sunny

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afternoon beneath a clear blue sky and the gaze of those shiny apartment blocks, which cast no shadows on one another or the pitch; this has to be how Le Corbusier imagined La Ville Radieuse.

A man in a loosely belted gabardine raincoat appears; if he was wearing a trilby hat he could have stepped from a 1940’s film. He sports a bright arm band which adds to the look, but in a slightly sinister manner; he is however the délègue principal, the FFF official who

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will oversee this afternoon’s game from the side lines. Out of the blue one of the spectators walks up to me and shakes my hand. In due course the two teams emerge from their respective changing rooms and walk through the metal gate onto the pitch before lining up side by side, then in a line before shaking hands. Introductions between the referee and players and délègue principal are made all-round, before the game kicks off about five minutes late (it was advertised as a 14:30 kick–off) with St Ouen having first go with the ball, aiming at the goal in front of the buvette. Meudon kick in the general direction of far off Stade Charlety and the 13th Arrondissement. St Ouen wear an all-green kit, whilst Meudon are all in red; neither club has its club crest on its shirts but instead bear the logo of the FFF with its cockerel.

St Ouen quickly win a free-kick as their tricky number nine goes down under a challenge; he gets up to send a neat free-kick over the red wall of Meudon, but into the arms of the very young looking Meudon goalkeeper, who strangely is one of the smallest players on the pitch, a sort of French Laurie Sivell. It is also St Ouen who have the second serious goal attempt, again a free-kick, but this time firmly hit from a wide position by their number ten. Once again the goalkeeper, whose blond hair may not be its original

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colour, saves, batting the ball away for the first of five corners that St Ouen will win this half. Most of these corners are either poorly taken or all the St Ouen players are waiting for the ball in the wrong places.
Meudon are very competitive and the game is played at a fast pace with the emphasis on passing rather than just getting the ball forward by the fastest route. Meudon come close to scoring a bit before three o’clock as their huge number eleven breaks through on the left. The St Ouen goalkeeper, who incidentally reminds me of St Etienne ‘keeper Stephane Ruffier on account of his designer stubble and very short dark hair, and is possibly the second smallest on the pitch, dives at his feet. The ball rebounds to the Meudon number seven whose goal-bound shot is headed away at improbably close range.
Meudon seem to be growing in confidence and their number ten does a few feints and jinks over the ball like a footballing Michael Jackson (Bubbles’ friend, not the one who played for Tranmere and Shrewsbury) might have done. There are a few jeers and within the next twenty seconds his ankles are swept away from beneath him by the St Ouen number three as he goes to dribble down the right touchline. It’s one of those situations that some people would try to excuse by saying that number ten had been ‘disrespectful’, but that’s just a modern buzzword, a sort of false political correctness and it is tosh; I blame Eastenders. Football is a game of skill, and dumping someone on their bum shows little ‘respect’ itself. Referee Monsieur Charly Legendre doesn’t see fit to book anyone either way.
The coaches on the side lines are animated, “Parlez –vous” one calls urging his players to talk to one another. The St Ouen coach, a portly man in his fifties sports a fine mullet and

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has the look of Maradona about him. The Meudon coach becomes involved in a prolonged discussion with the linesman Mefa Bakayoko about an offside or a free-kick which has been and gone and so no longer matters. On the field, the St Ouen number ten sends a free-kick solidly over the cross bar whilst Meudon’s number six comes as close as anyone else with a long range shot that goes wide. St Ouen’s number nine is proving industrious and creates a couple of shots for himself, one of which is well saved and Meudon replace their number three with substitute number thirteen. Half-time arrives and Paulene and I look back on a good but slightly frustrating forty-five minutes, which was too tight to be really entertaining. I head for the buvette to get a bottle of water (1 euro).
During the half-time break we stand about and as a man walks by he shouts “Ipswich!”. We could do with that sort of enthusiasm at Portman Road. As I stand I enjoy the

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contents of the many balconies that overlook the pitch from the surrounding apartments. Bikes, mattresses, plants and drying clothes decorate the bright white buildings and on one corner is a tricolour, perhaps left over from the summer’s World Cup win. As the afternoon wears on more people seem to arrive to watch the game and by the end I estimate that at least one-hundred people are here.
The délègue principal oversees the away team leaving their dressing room by a side door to the sports centre building and heads back to the pitch still wearing his gabardine raincoat, although it’s a warm afternoon; he is perhaps the anti-thesis of the banker in The Beatles’ Penny Lane and also feels as if he’s in a play, or a British TV sitcom. The bearded referee begins the game again and St Ouen soon win their sixth and seventh corners of the game, although in between their number eleven also shoots over the cross bar. At about four o’clock the St Ouen number eleven breaks forward through the middle, stretching the Meudon defence before playing a through ball to number ten who slips the ball inside the near post past the ‘blonde’ goalkeeper; St Ouen lead 1-0.
They may be losing and disappointed to be doing so, but Meudon still pose a threat and a good run and cross from number eleven meets the thigh of number seven just a few yards out, but he can’t direct the ball past the goal keeper. The first booking of the game goes to Meudon’s number two and the game enters a tetchy stage where it seems it could flare up at any moment. As at most French football matches I have seen where this happens however, there are only outbreaks of animated discussion between the players, but the referee stands back and let’s this carry on. It’s a civilised approach which may reflect the character of a country that has produced far more philosophers than England has produced ‘World Class’ footballers.
St Ouen are buoyed by their goal and their bearded number three controls a ball beautifully on his chest before advancing down the flank. The lads watching near us jeer at his skill and nickname him Fekir, and they’re right to do so because he does vaguely resemble the French international. But Meudon are not beaten yet and the large number eleven strides past a couple of St Ouen players before playing a through ball to number twelve who either wasn’t paying attention or the pass wasn’t as good as it looked. Paulene and I belatedly realise that the number twelve has replaced the number seven, who we had thought was Meudon’s best player.
St Ouen almost score a second goal as their number nine diverts a cross from ‘Fekir’ the wrong side of the post from close range, but the game is becoming more scrappy and there are more fouls. The Meudon number ten spends more time than most not being upright. St Ouen win an eighth corner and as a passage of play ends Monsieur Legendre calls over Meudon’s number nine and ‘Fekir’ and books them for a mystery offence that neither Paulene or I saw. It is now gone half past four and we are witnessing time added on as St Ouen’s number eight runs down the right and then pulls the ball back across the penalty area for substitute number fourteen to side foot beyond the small, blond goalkeeper into the far corner of the goal. St Ouen L’Aumone AS is the name that will go into the draw for the 5th round of the Coupe de France.
It’s been a reasonable game although not an exciting one in terms of goalmouth action. We turn to leave and Paulene notices a man with an Ipswich Town crest on his coat; I speak to him and it turns out he is the father of a second player from Meudon AS who is now in Ipswich Town’s Under 18 squad, Lounes Fodil.

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Lounes’s dad, who is called Mustapha (apologies if the spelling is wrong) is a lovely bloke and is genuinely pleased to meet us and invites us for a coffee in the buvette. Our conversation probably isn’t the best as neither our French nor Mustapha’s English are fully fluent, but Mustapha gets across his philosophy of football; it’s a game of skill and intelligence not brute strength. He’s been to Portman Road and has noticed the glum atmosphere, which he attributes to the dull football. Whilst we are at the buvette some of the players come in for post-match drinks and snacks, one of them (I think it might have been the big number eleven or the captain) tells me Lounes is a good player. I tell him that’s good news because Ipswich Town really needs some good players; before he leaves he shakes my hand. The man who I first spoke to when we arrived comes to the bar counter and gets out his mobile phone before showing us a montage of clips of Idris El Mizouni playing for the Under 18’s, this is when I discover that this is Idris’s dad.
After a good half an hour or more we have to leave and walk from the ground with Mustapha who leaves us his phone number and invites us round to eat; sadly Paulene’s food intolerances and allergies will make that too complicated. We thank Mustapha and say how good it has been to meet him. Hopefully we will see him again.

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Ipswich Town 1 Derby County 2

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Today is the 30th December, the last Saturday of 2017 and I am travelling to Portman Road to witness the third game of the ‘Hectic Christmas Schedule’. It being Christmas week it doesn’t feel like a Saturday, but it definitely is and will no doubt bring the joy or despair to prove it.
The train is on time and peopled with passengers clearly going home after Christmas. A woman opposite me wears a woolly hat with a disproportionately large fluffy bobble; her jeans hug her calves but her knees are exposed through fashionable rips. Further down the carriage a woman bawls at her young daughter, ironically telling her to be quiet. It’s an average train journey.
It is a mild, bright and blustery day and on Princes Street in Ipswich the wind has torn some banners promoting the annual pantomime from their fixings on the lamp posts. 24538582807_845ab7c1ef_oPortman Road is its usual Saturday afternoon self as I walk along it. The turnstiles are not yet open and people who must have very little else to do indeed, queue by them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Burgers and buns are eaten, programmes are bought, blokes with strange ‘North meets the Midlands’ accents talk of the “Station Hotel or summat” where, as visitors to Ipswich they might be allowed to buy a drink.
In St Jude’s Tavern the usual collection of blokes is present, enjoying their pre-match beer. Today’s Match Day Special is Mauldon’s Silver Adder (£2) and that‘s what I drink before I am joined by my friend Mick; we talk of Christmas, travelling to Lille, Brussels and Paris by car or train and ‘top’ Parisian football clubs (PSG, Red Star, Paris FC, and Creteil; Entente SSG get forgotten). Mick admits that his one great regret is that he was born English or at least never went to live abroad. Mick makes a very good point about how people like to moan about their lot but never do anything about it. I am deeply unhappy about being an Ipswich Town supporter, but I write it down.
After another pint of Match Day Special (which has been changed to Crouch Vale Brewers Gold) and a half of Nethergate Old Growler (£1.80) later, I am descending Portman Road without any sense of anticipation or excitement. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and I was only here on Tuesday. It’s a bit annoying to have to come back again so soon when what I saw on Tuesday was so awful.
Inside the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand (Churchman’s) is a pair of signs pointing the way forOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA blood donors. Season ticket prices won’t be going up this year, but supporters will be required to donate a pint of blood each. I need to urinate and so visit the toilets. I wash my hands and use the blow dryer, which breathes warmly across my wet hands with the force of a chronic asthmatic. I take my seat and to the strains of Frank Sinatra singing ‘My Way’ the teams take to the field. ‘My Way’ was apparently Bobby Robson’s favourite song, but amusingly it could equally be the theme tune of current manager Mick McCarthy or the elusive and seemingly parsimonious club owner Marcus Evans. Is the club having a laugh at our expense?
Derby County begin the game, kicking towards the Sir Bobby Robson stand and wearing vile, day-glo yellow shirts and navy blue shorts. Quite why Derby feel the need to wear a change kit when their club colours of white shirts and navy blue shorts would not remotely clash with Ipswich’s blue shirts and white shorts is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, which probably has something to do with selling replica shirts. As the Town players shield their eyes, Derby dominate possession and their supporters are soon singing Verdi and enquiring in which part of the stadium they will find nineteenth century romantic novels.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The home crowd is of course quiet and become even quieter when Derby score a goal in the 13th minute, a header from a corner by a stocky bloke called Sam Winnall. Ipswich win three corners in the first half and a few free-kicks within sight of the Derby goal, but the home crowd offer nothing in the way of support for their team and it makes me feel quite angry. Ipswich are being outplayed, which isn’t what I want to see, but I can’t help thinking these people get the team they deserve. I shout and I chant, on my own.
At half-time I move seats to sit near Phil the ever-present fan and his son Elwood, but not before I eat a piece of Christmas cake that I had brought along to keep my spirits up. There are scores of empty seats and this is the cheap part of the ground, maybe it’s not OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcheap enough. Crazee the edgy, urban Suffolk Punch mascot struts his stuff in front us; if he’s trying to rally the supporters he’s almost literally flogging a dead horse. I think of a disturbing scene in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in which a peasant flogs his feeble old horse to death in the street and onlookers join in. Crazee can add masochism to his list of edgy behaviours, which really only amount to wearing sunglasses and a hat which is on back to front.
A new half like a new year brings new hope, but that is soon dashed as Sam Winnall hits a long distance swerving shot into the top left hand corner of the goal that Ipswich are defending. I am virtually in perfect line with the shot and get a spectacular view of it as it hits the goal net. How lovely for me. A man behind me can’t contain himself and goes into raptures. But the goal doesn’t ‘do for’ Ipswich and the second half is a more even contest with Ipswich even pressing at times. A string of corners sees the electronic scoreboard flash “Come On You Blues”, but it must be tempting for the operator to type in “Go on, Sing you Bastards!” and I live for the day. Eventually, and in spite of the indifference of the crowd, Joe Garner heads the final corner into the net and Ipswich now only trail 2-1; a draw is a possibility. The silence in the stands is broken by cheers of joy; people stand and wave their arms about in happy abandon. At times thereafter there is some rhythmic clapping around the ground and some drumming in the Sir Bobby Robson stand, and the last twenty minutes are more enjoyable. The Derby supporters are quieter now as they worry whether their team will hang on, but they do.
Five minutes of added on time pass quickly by and referee Mr Oliver Langford, who awarded far too many free-kicks to Derby, calls time on another disappointing afternoon at Portman Road, which will doubtless fuel much rage, fury, wailing and gnashing of teeth on social media; if only people could channel their over-excitement about disappointing results into backing their team when they are actually playing.
Up The Town!

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