Paris St Germain 6 Red Star Belgrade 1

A bit after 5 o’clock on another sunny, early autumn afternoon in Ile de France my wife Paulene and I arrive at Meudon Val Fleury station to find that the suburban RER train service is suspended for at least two hours because someone has unfortunately been hit by a train at Champ de Mars station. The Paris St Germain versus Red Star Belgrade match in Group C of the European Champions League kicks-off at six fifty-five, which is a bit of an odd hour, and it means that a different mode of transport will be required to get to the game on time. Seasoned travellers that we are, we don’t panic, but stroll round to the front of the station and across the forecourt to the bus stop where a No 289 bus is conveniently just drawing up. In just twenty minutes this bus will take us to Porte de St Cloud, which is more or less just over the road from Parc des Princes. Our carbon footprint will be bigger courtesy of the Iveco diesel engine, but what can you do? We board the bus and validate our tickets (1.49 euros each if bought as a carnet of ten).
It’s a fun ride through the streets of western Paris and we have a driver who likes to use his horn; at one stage he leans out of his cab window to converse with the driver of a

45092035431_3e911401fd_o

Peugeot who has pulled across in front of him. With car drivers cowering, the bus pulls onto the cobbled surface of the Porte de St Cloud bus station and, along with a handful of blokes sporting various Paris St Germain branded attire, we alight and make the short walk to Parc des Princes. Our tickets tonight (48 euros each) are in the Paris tribune, the stand which has its back to the centre of Paris. It is a dramatic approach to the stadium as we cross a bridge over the

45092036911_0ff19c18d1_o

périphérique, Paris’s inner ring road, which actually passes underneath the corner of the Paris tribune. Of all those ‘you can see the stadium from here’ moments that you get on car and rail journeys, this has to be the best. We walk past the PSG supporters’ shop (most definitely not the official club shop) with its delightful “Fuck Marseille” scarves. It’s not much past six o’clock and it’s still light, and the concrete ‘fins’ that define the silhouette of the stadium look fantastic; Parc des Princes may be over forty years old but it’s a marvellous sight, a far more exciting looking building than any stadium in Britain.
Security arrangements mean some queuing to get in, with everybody patted down by

44180984635_6f060b44f6_o

people wearing what look like knitted gloves; it’s a matter of luck how quick or thorough your ‘patter’ is. My ‘patter’ is slow and thorough; Paulene’s patter may be no quicker, but as she only has to deal with women in a crowd of mostly men the queue to be patted down is shorter. This means that by the time I get to the turnstile itself, Paulene is already in the stadium. We have tickets that were sent by e-mail to Paulene and she then sent my ticket to my mobile phone, so ‘all’ I should have to do is pass the black and white patterned thingy in the e-mail beneath the electronic reader at the turnstile. But the reader doesn’t like what I place under it; it seems it needs to read the original rather than the one Paulene forwarded to me. It takes a steward to explain this to me of course and I send two desperate texts to Paulene: “I can’t get in”, “Come to the turnstiles” I plead. As my wife and carer, Paulene immediately understands and answers my call; the reader reads the ticket from her phone and I get inside the stadium. Technology and I are sworn enemies, but everything has worked out fine, until the next time.
Out of gratitude and because she asked me to I treat Paulene to a bottle of Coca Cola (2.50

44371980404_8bb98469c4_o

euros), but I decide to go thirsty because I object to buying a bottle of drink from which the cap is confiscated. I am a 58 year old adult and can be trusted with a plastic bottle top, so “shove your Coca-Cola and other topless bottled drinks where the sun doesn’t shine” is my message to PSG. I later buy a coffee (2 euros) to keep me alert against other possible infringements of my human rights. The spirit of Mai ’68 lives on.
PSG has e-mailed Paulene earlier in the day to warn that trouble was a possibility at tonight’s game from followers of Red Star Belgrade (FK Crvena Zvezda in Serbian), who might have dodged any efforts to segregate supporters. It seems like an admission that PSG have failed to properly control ticket sales and they also advise away supporters not to wear club colours, which surely increases the possibility for trouble by making them impossible to spot. We had heard lots of Balkan voices as we approached the stadium, but there was no sign of any antagonism between French and Serbs. Inside the stadium we find ourselves sat behind a row of blokes in their thirties or early forties who are clearly Belgrade supporters but they seem a bit like the sort of ‘youngish professionals’ you might find at a rugby match in England or in the Greyhound pub in Ipswich; two of them wear Mercedes Benz lanyards which suggests they may have wangled a trip to Paris on the back of the current motor show at Porte de Versaille.
Our seats are close to the front of the stand and in a corner, close to where the Paris

45043601722_1f79f55979_o

tribune ends and the Boulogne tribune begins. A wedge of Belgrade supporters are nearby to our left, behind a large net which hangs from the roof of the stadium, and a moat. More Serbians fill a batch of seats in the upper tier of the stadium, away to our right. The Auteuil end of the stadium where the bulk of the Paris Ultras are usually accommodated is completely empty tonight, presumably a sanction by UEFA for some previous transgression by the Ultras, probably the use of flares. The noise level is reduced as a result, but there is still a decent atmosphere inside the ground, but then there are still over 39,000 people here.


Pre-match entertainment includes the players’ warm-ups to a soundtrack of tunes from the ‘legendary’ Charles Aznavour, who sadly died earlier this week, and some serious watering of the pitch, which reminds me of the spectacular fountains at the gardens of the palace of Versaille. I am a little surprised that PSG haven’t considered choreographing the sprinklers to a musical accompaniment. At last the overblown Champions League anthem, that rip-off of 45092131931_858bdc0502_oHandel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’, strikes up and the teams line up on the pitch whilst some young people stand in a circle and shake a big circular thing; it looks to me like they are shaking the crumbs off a massive table cloth, possibly one used by UEFA officials in some lavish pre-match banquet; the comparisons with Versaille continue. Tonight PSG are wearing an all-black strip, whilst Red Star Belgrade wear red and white, looking like Stoke City from the front and Fleetwood Town from the back.
The game begins with PSG having first go with the ball and aiming in the direction of the banks of empty seats at the Auteuil end of the ground; Belgrade shoot towards the Boulogne-Billancourt end. Predictably, the first free-kick of the game, and the second, is awarded for a foul on Neymar. Backed by chants of “Red Star, Red Star” the Serbians have the first shot on goal however, as a poor header from Presnel Kimpembe is half-volleyed into the beautiful blue evening sky by Goran Causic. Belgrade look keen but translate this into committing lots of fouls. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria are a bit too quick for them. The Belgrade number thirty-one El Fardou Ben from the Comoros Islands is very chunky, a sort of scaled down Ade Akinbayi. To begin with he looks like he might be a handful for the PSG defence, but he’s not and in the pantheon of chunky players is probably no better than former Ipswich Town superstar Martyn Waghorn.
Having weathered the early Red Star enthusiasm, Paris St Germain settle down into totally dominating possession, as is their habit. With twenty-minutes gone a free-kick is granted to PSG in a position from which it is almost inevitable Neymar will score, and he does. Two minutes later he performs a brilliant high-speed one-two with Kylian Mbappe and scores again. Mbappe is set up by Neymar but the Belgrade goal keeper Milan Borjan saves at his near post and then saves a header from Edinson Cavani. Marco Verratti is magnificent in midfield, winning the ball back almost instantly every time a move breaks down. Edinson Cavani scores the third goal just after half-past seven before a Thomas Meunier cross, or possibly even a pass, is delicately flicked in by Angel Di Maria four minutes before half-time. Paris St Germain are magnificent and I’ve seldom if ever seen the like of it before.
At half-time we feel we need a rest, not just because our collective breaths have been taken away by the sumptuous football, but also because the Serbian blokes in front of us have been stood up throughout the first-half and we need a bit of a sit-down. Whilst they go off to pay 7 euros for non-alcoholic beer in PSG branded plastic cups we can rest in relative comfort and gaze upon the green of the pitch without having to look over their neatly cut heads of hair.
The second half is soon underway however, and the Serbians return looking suspiciously at their beers. Paulene now stands by a free seat further back across the gangway because the Serbs have played musical chairs and a tall one and a shorter one have swapped places so her view is obstructed. The second-half proves even more exciting as Mbappe attacks down the left and we get to witness his remarkable speed at close quarters from which he looks even faster. But the PSG forwards and attacking midfield are so free, interchangeable and flowing that anyone can pop-up anywhere. Mbappe pops up regularly but misses every time and by the time he does score Belgrade have even had a couple of shots on target of their own. In the far corner of the ground some Paris Ultras have begun to wave banners, one says Paris, whilst a second is clearly aimed at winding up the Serbs and reads ‘Kosovo’, a part of the country that has declared independence from Serbia; although Serbia recognises the government it sees Kosovo as its own province.44171686915_83e7470fae_o
Belgrade’s Filip Stojkovic is the first player to be booked by Portuguese referee Artur Dias Soares, when he tugs at Neymar’s shirt; Stojkovic just couldn’t wait until the end of the match to claim his souvenir. Mbappe’s eventual goal is scored two minutes later with 70 minutes played, it’s a relative tap-in from a bamboozling passing move instigated by Neymar that should have resulted in a goal sooner, but previous shots were blocked. The only surprise is that it’s taken so long for the fifth goal to be scored, but any sense of shock is eclipsed four minutes later as Milan Miran scores with a fine shot for Belgrade. The Serbian fans are ecstatic and make the most of their only opportunity to celebrate this evening, which is a lesson to all football supporters of losing teams, Ipswich Town fans please take note. But not to be outdone the Paris Ultras also light four or five flares on the opposite side of the ground where the flags were, for which the club will no doubt be punished in some way by UEFA.43269643400_d3ee064df0_o
A man in a dark suit appears from the back of the stand to ask everyone to sit down as people behind can’t see. He has some success but it’s a bit late for this now and within ten minutes everyone is stood up again anyway. But we see the last ten minutes with an unobstructed view because the Serbs in front can’t take any more and leave. All that remains is for Neymar to complete his hat-trick with a second perfect free-kick over the defensive wall into the top left hand corner of Milan Borjan’s goal.
This has been the fourth time I have seen PSG at Parc des Princes and I can’t but help feeling a little disconnected from these matches, because PSG are the French version of Manchester United or Bayern Munich, and are the club who everyone except their own supporters loathes. I can’t help disliking them too because their un-earned wealth distorts and compromises the French league and Cup competitions. But I have to admit that tonight PSG have played brilliantly and produced possibly the best football I have ever seen, better even than Ipswich Town’s during the 1980-81 season. English commentators will no doubt debunk the win by saying that Red Star Belgrade are a weak side, but the brilliance of Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani, Rabiot, Di Maria, Meunier and Verratti just cannot be denied. This has been a fantastic evening’s football.

Gallia Club Uchaud 1 FAC Carcassonne 0

I am on holiday and travelling with my wife down through France to Marseillan Plage in the Hérault département.  Careful research has turned up the good news that we can take in a football match en route. The match is a league game between Uchaud and Carcassonne in the Languedoc – Roussillon section of the Occitanie region’s Division Honneur; the sixth level of French football.

It is now about half past one and we have stopped at an ‘aire’ on the A9 motorway just a few miles from Nimes; with a half hour stop for lunch we will still make it to the Stade Municipal in Uchaud with time to take in the ambience before kick off at 3pm. As we lay out our lunch on a concrete picnic table, a lady about our own age asks if she can share the table with us; being nice people, and in the interests of the entente cordiale, we agree and she joins us with her daughter, who is mentally handicapped. Through a winning combination of our useless French and her slightly less useless English we converse. She is a lovely, friendly ladywith a kind, smiling face and with her daughter Gladys ( a name that sounds much better in French; Gladeece not Gladiss) is on her way from their home in Grenoble for a week’s holiday at Grau du Roi, at a centre that provides holidays for handicapped people and their carers. Gladys, a pretty, joyful young woman, who today wears a large pink flower in her dark hair, is now twenty-nine years old and her mother has brought her up and looked after her on her own all that time. From Monday to Wednesday Gladys now lives in a home, but for the remainder of the week with her mum.  Having eaten lunch, we say goodbye wishing each other bons vacances; we feel a mixture of sadness and humility but also great happiness to have met Gladys and her mum as we set off back onto the motorway towards Nimes and then Uchaud.

Uchaud is a very small town about 8 miles south west of Nimes on the D113, which was the main road between Nimes and Montpellier before the A7 motorway was built. The D113 follows the route of the old Roma road, the Via Domitia. Uchaud is typical of such French towns, appearing to be just two rows of mostly slightly scruffy two and three-storey buildings either side of the road, although in truth it does spread out a little beyond.  According to Wikipedia, in 2014 Uchaud had a population of 4,230.

Just past the very centre of the town we turn off to the left down the Rue Jean Moulin which takes us over the motorway; to the right we see a set of floodlights and then we turn right down the Chemin des Poissoniers. Easing our Citroen C3 between a pair of concrete posts scarred by generations of other Citroens, Renaults, Peugeots and probably Simcas that were less expertly driven, we enter the unsurfaced car park of the Stade Municipal and come to rest beneath the welcome shade of a plane tree. It’s about twenty-five to three.

The Stade Municipal is not much more than a football pitch bounded by a high chain-linked fence. There is a changing room block and buvette (refreshment stall or buffet) at one end of the ground  and a tiny, open, metal ‘grandstand’ which has a capacity of about a dozen people. Otherwise there are just a couple of large rocks and two benches on which to sit and watch the match. The floodlights we saw belong to the neighbouring rugby club. On the opposite side of the ground by the half-way line are the dugouts, including a one-man dugout for the délègue principal, who oversees the whole staging of the match; today’s délègue principal is Monsieur Alain Mistral. He is the only person wearing a suit, although he has taken his jacket off because of the heat. Along this side of the ground runs a low grassy bank with a few young trees on top; a row of rhododendrons punctuate the side of the ground where the benches, rocks and grandstand are, although sadly by now most of their deep red blooms have died off. Such decorative plants are sadly lacking at most English football grounds.

It is free to watch games at this level in France and the players are amateurs playing for the love of the game, so there is no turnstile and we just pass through a metal gate and head for the buvette. The teams are already on the pitch and we ask two gentlemen of retirement age which is which. Uchaud are in all green whilst Carcassonne wear red and blue stripes with blue shorts in the style of Barcelona or, seeing as this is France, Stade Malherbe de Caen. Perhaps confused by my ‘Allez les Bleus’ t-shirt, the gentlemen ask who we are supporting; it seems rude not to support the home team, but I explain that back in England my team is Ipswich (‘les bleus’ of my t-shirt), and my wife adds that she follows Portsmouth; the Frenchmen are Marseilles fans. At the buvette we buy two filter coffees (one euro each); there’s none of your instant rubbish here. We walk about a bit and explore before eventually settling down on one of the rocks in time for kick off, which is slightly delayed because one of the assistant referees seems to be having a bit of trouble inspecting the goal net at the buvette end of the ground. But eventually we hear an electronic beep which signifies that the referee  (Monsieur Boris Gil) has synchronised his watch with his assistants (Monsieurs Laurent Mazauric and Anthony Chaptal) and the game begins.

Carcassonne kick off defending the town and motorway end of the ground and kicking in the general direction of the Camargue and Mediterranean Sea. I am quickly struck by the total absence of any tattooed forearms on any of the twenty-two players, something that is completely unthinkable in England. There are plenty of the ubiquitous beards, but not one tattoo, although the Uchaud number eleven, who bears a passing resemblance to the former Bastia and Lille full-back Julien Palmieri, does wear a bandage on his left forearm.  Could it be a tattoo that went horribly wrong? Does he have a tattoo but covers it up because no one else has one? Do tattoos remain the preserve of convicts in southern France?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The pace of the game is quick, which is surprising given that it is a warm afternoon with a temperature of a good 25 or 26 degrees, but nevertheless it takes more then five minutes for the first shot on goal, from Uchaud, and then another ten minutes before the next OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAone, from Carcassonne; both shots are from angles, across the face of goal. Uchaud have an uncharacteristically solid, English looking centre half at number four, whilst as well as having a Julien Palmieri lookalike at number eleven, their number six bears a disturbing resemblance to former French international and alleged sex-tape starlet Matthieu Valbuena.

The match is quite absorbing even though there are very few attempts on goal, but we still find time to notice that the badge on the shirt of the assistant referee appears to be OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAattached with velcro; his shirt, shorts and socks all look brand new as if this is their first outing; he’s like an outsized boy on his first day at school. Carcassonne look the slightly more accomplished team and have more forays forward, but Uchaud are well organised and in Palmieri (who the rest of the team call Kevin), Valbuena and their captain they have three players who stand out for their skill and good positional sense; their goalkeeper contributes too with his constant calls of “parlez vous” (talk) and “garde” (keep it) as well as the odd catch from a cross. Carcassonne finish the half with a flourish winning the game’s first corner and then seeing their number three place a free-kick carefully over the angle of post and crossbar, before their dreadlocked number eleven runs in behind the Uchaud defence only to hit a low shot beyond the far post.

Half – time, or mi – temps as the French would have it brings a return to the buvette for a bottle of water (one euro) and a wander to the far side of the ground to view the second half from a different perspective. There are plenty of people stretched out on the grassy bank and it brings to mind a football spectating version of Georges Seurat’s painting “Un dimanche après – midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte” (a Sunday afternoon at the island of Grand Jatte). There are no advertising hoardings, no programme and no team sheets to amuse us today so we have to talk. Of course, being a conversation with my wife I dont recall anything she says to me, although we do wonder how many people are here watching the game and decide there are at least 120, not including the people who have parked their cars right next to the fence and are watching from behind the wheel.

As the second half begins we too sit down on the grassy bank, but despite the warmth of the day the grass feels a bit damp and it seems likely that the bank has benefited from some ‘fall-out’ from the watering of the pitch, which is in pretty good condition given that the summers in these parts are on the hotter side of scorching. We don’t move however before the Uchaud goalkeeper misses a punch and has to rely on one of his full-backs to clear the ball for a corner. Carcassonne’s number two then has a yellow card waved at him by Monsiour Gil for roughly tackling Uchaud’s number ten and captain.

Now watching the game from behind the goal, the second half is slower than the first and not quite as good as some of the players start to rely a little more on breaking the game up, some by appealing for fouls, others by committing them. With twenty minutes to go there is a very quick drinks break, soon followed by Uchaud’s first corner, which is won by their young substitute wearing the number thirteen shirt. Heading into the final ten minutes Carcassone’s number seven is booked and not that suprisingly because he has been consistently overplaying the “who, me ref?” role for some time, whilst also provoking a series of complaints from the Uchaud players and coaches.

Despite Carcassonne’s less than always sporting approach, my wife and I agree that they look a little more likely to score because they seem just a little bit sharper. Seconds later the Uchaud number thirteen turns and lofts a diagonal cross to the corner of the Carcassonne penalty area where Uchaud’s number two controls and shoots across the alice – band wearing goalkeeper towards the far post. The Carcassonne number six runs back and attempts to clear his opponent’s shot off the line, but both he and the ball merely combine to bulge the net as Uchaud take the lead to the cheers and applause of the crowd. Carcassonne do not now seriously look like scoring an equaliser and only succeed in using up a bit more of the ink in Monsiour Gil’s biro or the lead in his pencil, as their number nine becomes the third player to be cautioned.

With the final whistle, there is a very small ripple of applause, which quickly dissipates and the crowd depart whilst we safely negotiate the perilous posts at the entrance to the the car park and are once again on our way south. It’s been an entertaining afternoon in the sun, in surroundings reminiscent of step six of the English non league, but with football of a slightly better standard and better coffee.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Coggeshall Town 5 Stanway Rovers 1

It’s the first day of August and with indecent haste the football season has started again. But in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division it needs to because the league has now been expanded to twenty four clubs and somehow between now and next May the teams have to fit in forty-six league fixtures, the FA Cup, FA Vase, League Cup and County Senior Cup and in some cases some other pointless trophy or other awarded in memory of a long dead official of the league or county FA. But it’ll be okay, as long as they take one game at a time.
It is about 7.15 and the car park is filling up steadily as I turn into Coggeshall’s West Street ground. But it is to be expected, for tonight is the first home League game of the season and it’s a local derby against Stanway Rovers. Walking from my car with my step son’s wife’s stepfather (what a tangled web we weave) to the turnstiles I sneer disapprovingly at how poorly some people have parked; you could get a bus in the space that Peugeot 205 is taking up. I pay my £6 entry fee or rather my fellow step-father does; it’s his treat because I drove and spent £1.50 on a programme, which is a bit steep, but it’s very thick paper. Inside the ground I pause to admire the view and the big sign which leaves no doubt about the direction to go for refreshments.36291481676_eb3fb0a23a_z We follow the arrow and I enjoy a pounds worth of pre-match tea; black because the milk is UHT.
The first game of the season is apparently, eagerly anticipated and I suppose I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be. There is a certain thrill at seeing the pitch in pristine condition, glowing green beneath the brightening flood lights. “It’s the greenest I’ve ever seen it” I hear a bloke behind say slightly incredulously to his friend. Meanwhile a pair of middle-aged blokes carefully copy the team line-ups down into note books; I delude myself that I make them feel antediluvian by taking a photo of the team sheet on my phone.36199259661_651e29bc89_o
Minutes later we’ve chosen our seats in the low, black tin-roofed stand and the teams are lined up on the steps that lead down from the changing rooms to the pitch. We wait, and wait a bit more, I get the feeling they are making a bit too much out of this eager anticipation of the first game of the season, but eventually the teams stream on. Coggeshall look groovy in their customary red and black stripes with black shorts whilst Stanway wear all blue with a white shoulder and hoop around one leg of their shorts; asymmetry agogo. As the crocodiles of players cross the halfway line the Coggeshall captain gets a bit motivational and hunches his back and claps his hands, bawling something about getting going and getting there as if crossing the half way line is what they’re all about. His team mates either don’t hear him or are wrapped up in their own pre-match thoughts, they remain impassive.36335636925_095215e6c7_o

With sporting handshakes out of the way, Stanway kick off the match towards the rough car park behind the goal to my left and Coggeshall town itself. A nerdy sounding man sat at the back of the stands says how he can’t have been here since the 1980’s, adding “Goodness me” at the end of his sentence as if he has surprised himself; another obvious groundhopper tells how he caught the train to Kelvedon and walked across the fields to get here. The nerd says how he hadn’t thought of doing that. Saving us from the boredom of this overheard, statement-rich conversation Coggeshall’s number 11 scores a rather good goal. Barely 10 minutes have passed.
Stanway Rovers have a barrel chested centre forward who, according to Wikipedia “…enjoyed a six-year career with Colchester United..” Coggeshall’s number ten has a crowning hank of obviously dyed blond hair, which makes him look like a wannabe League footballer, but he has no reason to envy the Stanway man tonight, as dyed hair or not the number ten scores a second goal for the Seedgrowers after Stanway fail to clear a corner. We haven’t even been here for twenty five minutes yet.
The ball is pumped forward a bit too far for a Coggeshall forward to get a shot on the goal and someone shouts “Recycle”, which is good advice for everyone. Nearly a half hour has passed and a nifty little shimmy on the edge of the penalty area earns the space for Coggeshall’s number 9 to score his team’s third goal. Blimey. The crowd applaud politely but sadly don’t seem overly thrilled by the unfolding spectacle before them although the Stanway contingent are probably squirming, particularly the committee members in their blazers and club ties. Coggeshall’s dominance doesn’t convince the un-smiling nerd at the rear of the stand though, who two or three times speaks of Coggeshall being “unconvincing at the back” or some such “footballese” phrase. “A goal for Stanway now would put a very different complexion on the game” he opines whinily like someone wanting to be confused with John Motson. Stanway do “come on strong” towards the end of the half and have a shot that hits a goal post, but the colour and texture of the game’s skin remains unaltered.
Half-time brings applause and a stroll to the club house to buy a coffee for my accomplice and a bottle of a beer I wouldn’t normally drink (Greene King IPA) for me; £4.50 for the pair. My accomplice is very complimentary about the coffee which he thinks might not be instant but made with real coffee. For my part I wonder if the club shouldn’t source some locally brewed beer (Red Fox or Nethergate or Colchester Brewery perhaps?). 36199208221_d1a402470a_oThere is a summer fete feel to the refreshments tonight with the clubhouse shut, but drinks served from behind a table in the doorway and burgers dished up from inside a stripy gazebo.
The flood lights are now fully on as daylight recedes and shadows envelop the surrounding fields. A combine harvester that had flashed a yellow revolving light and thrown up dust away behind the Stanway goal in the first half has gone home to the farmyard. I flick through the programme. The title “Our History in Brief” heads a densely packed page of print; the next page in equally dense print is headed “Our History in Brief Continued”. This theme of failed brevity is repeated a page or two further on as the title “Our Club Honours at A Glance” sits above a list of 38 entries dating back to 1898. I find the programme’s half-time quiz easy; question two is “In what year was the first World Cup held?” whilst question five asks “ Which is the only club to have played in every World Cup since it started in 1930?. All ten answers are laid out in a 3-3-1-3 formation at the foot of the page with a front line of 8. Kilmarnock 9. Stanley Matthews in 1965 10. Inverness and 7. Juventus playing “in the hole” behind the strikers.
Having sated my thirst for historical facts I watch the second half, occasionally pausing to sip beer. This is the life. Ten minutes of football later Stanway concede a fourth goal as Coggeshall’s number nine turns a low cross into the Stanway goal net. Within not very long at all the Seedgrowers “go knap” as the number ten with the blond coiffure treats another low cross in the same manner. Eventually, and oddly within just a minute of scoring their fifth goal Coggeshall revert to type and show their famed inability to defend as a free-kick is met with a looping header from the barrel chested man who enjoyed a six year career at Colchester.
The remainder of the match passes in a blur of red, black, blue and green with white bits. We discuss why there no great works of art about football; I don’t think Lowry’s “Going to the match” or Peter Terson’s play “Zigger Zagger” really cut the mustard. Meanwhile the floodlights reflect off the bald head of the linesman who late on in the game makes no attempt to stifle a yawn. 36199206801_514070f9c6_oMay be it was through fatigue, or perhaps he too has overheard the nerdy groundhopper’s tale of congestion on the A312. It’s academic however as at about twenty five to ten the referee Mr Andrew Gray, who the programme entreats us to respect, and we do, calls time through the medium of his whistle.
It’s been a grand evening of fine football from all the Coggeshall Town team who are worthy winners. The addition of tea, beer and coffee have just added to the fun and I will be back another day for more of the same. The season has just begun!