Ipswich Town 1 Sunderland 1

Only the 10th of August and it’s bloody started already.  Summer is still here although today it has the good grace to pretend its autumn; a howling gale licks around the corners of my house and my Women’s World Cup bunting, strung joyfully across my back garden, slumps over the patio and plants in colourful tatters.

I look out of an upstairs windows to glimpse a silver Vauxhall Astra slip past; it’s Roly, he’s going to park on my back drive.  Roly is not the name of the Vauxhall Astra, he’s the driver. We had planned to meet at the railway station but seconds after he bought his ticket his train was cancelled; the result of a fallen tree, possibly two.  We walk to the railway station, the usual journey ensues. Roly tells me how his partner Sarah would castigate him for catching the train and not driving all the way to Ipswich, but he’s not going to tell her. Roly wants to save the planet, like me, and he also hates having to find somewhere to park and then sitting in traffic after the game.

Ipswich appears to be in a state of emergency, a police van sits in the middle of the station plaza but in fact everything is okay, it’s just ‘Norfolk and Suffolk working together for you’.  Football chants in thick far northern accents are carried up on the wind from the beer garden of the Station Hotel.  We cross the road and hurry away; we pass a lairy looking youth who suddenly bawls something unintelligible.

After a successful relegation season it’s a new dawn for Ipswich Town in division three and entering Portman Road I think I might buy a programme for every match this season to mark the newness, the difference.  I am looking forward to seeing the slightly unfamiliar clubs deemed ‘unfashionable’ by dullard journalists.  I approach a programme booth; I don’t think I will buy a programme after all, they’ve put the price up to £3.50 a copy, that’s an increase of 16.6%, way above the rate of inflation, not that I know what that is.  Why couldn’t they just make the programme less glossy, a bit smaller, add a couple of adverts and take out some of the drivel no one reads?  I want to blame Brexit.

At St Jude’s Tavern Roly buys two pints of the Match Day Special (£2.50) which today is Mr B’s Plan Bee, he gives one to me.  We invade the space of a man sat at a table on his own, but I ask him first if the seats are free, they are.  Mick arrives and buys a pint of porter and a packet of crisps, which he opens upon the table for us all to share, I don’t ask him how much the porter or the crisps costs.  It only takes one person with a loud voice in St Jude’s Tavern to make it difficult to hear what my fellow drinkers are saying and such a person is here today so I end up nodding and smiling as  the conversation drifts in and out of my comprehension.  I buy two more pints of the Match Day Special, Mick doesn’t want a second, but I get him a bag of dry-roasted peanuts (90p).  It’s barely half past two but Roly wants to get down to the Portman Road so that he can eat. We hang on ten minutes or so but soon give in to his gluttonous cravings.

At the corner of Portman Walk I leave our trio andI head for the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand whilst Roly and Mick head west to the East of England Co-op Stand and the posh seats.  I tell them I will wave up at them and doff my cap from amongst the groundlings behind the goal.  I make my way to the far end of Portman Road, following the pointing finger of Sir Bobby Robson’s statue; the parked up away supporters coaches either side of him displaying the names of County Durham towns he would have been familiar with.   

Nearby, a ginger-haired bloke in a yellow hi-vis jacket sells Sunderland fanzines.  There are queues at the turnstiles, possibly because not all the turnstiles are open. I pause to select the fastest moving queue and am quickly in the ground.  I speak briefly with Dave the steward with whom I once worked and then use the toilet facilities before proceeding to my seat.  Nothing has changed, Pat from Clacton is here and so of course is ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his young son Elwood.  On the pitch before us the serious looking steward with the enormous headphones looks as worried as ever, as if fearing that a violent supporters’ rebellion might start at any moment.  To confuse the operators of the improved CCTV surveillance system I have moved my seat slightly, I no longer sit in front of the old dears behind me, but behind them, a couple of seats to the left of Pat from Clacton.  Otherwise it seems like the first day back at school, “Have you had a good summer?” asks Pat from Clacton,   “It’s not over yet” I tell her, not really answering the question but subconsciously implying that the start of the football season doesn’t mean an end to ‘summer fun’. Ever-present Phil and I shake one another’s hand “Happy New Year” says Phil, which seems apposite.

It’s busy here today, with plenty of seats occupied that may not be sat upon again all season.  The attendance will eventually be announced as 24,051. The Sunderland supporters are present in large numbers (1,847) and mostly seem a humble, self-effacing lot.  No unduly boastful or mean spirited songs can be heard from the Cobbold Stand, which is nice. Their continuing, numerically impressive support for a club which was successful in the 1890’s but otherwise is most notable for a level of mediocrity which puts Ipswich Town’s recent averageness in the shade is such that mass sainthood doesn’t seem unreasonable. In nineteen eighty-something Sunderland even lost a League Cup final to Norwich, for heaven’s sake.  That careless catastrophe aside, Sunderland have good reason to be forever loved a little by everyone outside West Yorkshire because of the 1973 FA Cup final, which not only saw hated Leeds United beaten by the then Second Division team, but gave us the joyful sight of a man in a trilby hat and pale raincoat running with arms and hands outstretched to embrace his victorious players.  Manager Bob Stokoe’s joyfulness is now captured forever at The Stadium of Lights in a statue to him and by association his team of Montgomery, Malone, Guthrie, Horswill, Watson, Pitt, Kerr, Hughes, Halom, Porterfield and Tueart.  They might have won the FA Cup before in 1937, but seeing the world through a filter of ‘Ipswichness’ and TV pictures then 1973 was Sunderland’s 1978.

It’s three o’clock, the game begins; Sunderland in their excellent traditional kit of red and white striped shirts, black shorts and red socks get first go with the ball. Town parade this season’s version of whatever Adidas is peddling, a similarly traditionally plain blue shirt, white shorts and blue socks number. The crowd is noisy but there’s little co-ordinated chanting or singing.  The football is fast and uncontrolled; the long ball is favoured. After not many minutes the child sitting behind me is bored; I can understand why, it’s not exactly recognisable as the ‘beautiful’ game, but to the trained eye Town are already looking better than Sunderland.  Kayden Jackson is very quickly booked for trying to con the referee Mr Neil Hair, a man who I wish was German, into awarding him a penalty.  I quite liked Kayden Jackson last season, I hope he isn’t going to be an arse this season.

 A fraction of the match passes that is equal to the percentage increase in the cost of the match programme since last season and a long throw is helped into the Sunderland penalty area; the ball is cut back, Luke Garbutt controls it and surges through a mass of players towards the touchline before striking a finely angled shot through the legs of Sunderland goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin and just behind the far post. “Garbutt, 1-0”, as David Coleman might have said had he not been long dead.   How we cheer.  This is what we came for. Joy abounds.

I think this is better than I expected, although even last season we took the lead in a few games. The remaining half an hour of the first half sees Sunderland fail to do anything to threaten Town’s lead. It takes them forty minutes to even have a shot at goal. Kayden Jackson pines for attention and has an ice bag pressed against his head.  Garbutt develops a mystery ailment and is substituted by little Alan Judge. Everyone in a blue shirt is playing well, but no one scores another goal.  This new system of two players ‘up-front’, isn’t working  that well; James Norwood and Kayden Jackson sometimes get in each other’s way, they’re no Johnson and Whymark or Crawford and Phillips, not yet anyway.

Half-time arrives and I dash from my seat to stand before the stainless steel urinals beneath the stand before checking on the half-time scores, which are singularly unremarkable.  I return to the stand to speak with Ray and his grandson Harrison.  Our verdict on the game is that it’s okay and Ipswich are by far the better team, but the quality of the football could be better.  Harrison predicts a final score of 3-0.  Ray and I reserve judgement, our capacity for unbridled optimism beaten, squeezed and drained out of us by decades of bitter experience.

The second half disappoints. The blue skies over the Sir Bobby Robson Stand are as lovely as ever and I bask in the warmth of the August sun, but Town have lost their way; all they can do is pump in inaccurate cross after over-hit cross after inaccurate cross, Alan Judge buzzes about doing nothing very successfully. An hour has passed and a Sunderland throw is punted forward.  Luke Chambers has this covered; he is a yard or two ahead of Marc McNulty even though he cannot run as fast.  But Chambers doesn’t decide what to do and as he waits for an almost static ball to roll into touch McNulty dispossesses him and then simply has to pass the ball into the path of the incoming Lynden Gooch who side foots the ball into a gaping wide goal.   It’s like last season all over again.

There’s plenty of time for another goal but Ipswich have no inspiration, no means to prise an opening.  Fortunately Sunderland have even less idea and their forays forward are both rare and ineffective.  “Your support is fucking shit” sing some Sir Bobby Robson Standers to the Sunderland fans, demonstrating a complete absence of any concept of irony.   Mr Hair annoys the home crowd with a series of decisions that penalise imaginary infringements and favour Sunderland.  Pat from Clacton offers me a sweet from a plastic bag and shows me her new blue and white watch that she’s only going to wear on match days.  It’s a nice looking watch, but I’m feeling very self-centred and prefer the crumbly peppermint I took from Pat’s pick’n mix selection; it’s probably my highlight of the second half.   The attendance is announced and I verify that Pat from Clacton’s brother has won the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton supporters’ bus; his guess was the highest of all, 24,001.

After three minutes of added on time the game ends.  I rise from my seat and quickly leave. It’s been an afternoon of three thirds, Sunderland, Wonderland, Blunderland……all infused with Peppermint.

Today my favourite name of an opposing team’s player was Denver Hume.  I also liked the names Dylan McGeouch and George Dobson.

This week I have been reading ”The man who hated football”, a novel by  Will Buckley (2005)

Coggeshall Town 4 Ely City 1

 

-“Paul says he’s going to watch Coggeshall tonight, do you want to go?”
-“Ooh, I dunno, I hadn’t planned on going, it’s a bit cold. What will you do? Won’t you be lonely here on your own?”
-“I’ll sit here for a bit then just go to bed and read”
-“Oh, okay then, tell him yes”
So it was that I was easily swayed, despite obvious concerns about my wife’s mental well-being; but it turns out she’s not as angst ridden and depressed as me. A half an hour later after wrapping up warm, it is with a glad heart that I ring my neighbour’s door bell and having said hello and goodbye to his wife Sarah we’re away in his white Ford SUV type thing, eventually making best use of its high frame to negotiate the impressively rutted car park of ‘The Crops’, now mainly known as West Street, the home ground of Coggeshall Town.
The glare of the floodlights spills over the car park, and through the half-light Paul spots Olly Murs moving a metal barrier a couple of feet so that the bloke he is with can park a large Audi. At the turnstile Geoff the turnstile operator is his usual cheery and welcoming self. Paul says hello and asks how his boy Mikey is; it turns out Mikey isn’t his boy at all, but the son of a friend. A queue forms at the turnstile as Paul and Geoff natter . Admission is £6 each but there are no programmes, although Geoff says if he can find one about he’ll get it to me., which is nice of him.
As we walk the path towards the club house the teams are already out, warming up and

huddling conspiratorially as if someone is telling a really dark secret or a filthy joke. Paul and I stop a little beyond the stand above what looks like a rabbit burrow and the game soon kicks off. Coggeshall are wearing their customary , attractive kit of red and black striped shirts with black shorts. Tonight’s opponents are Ely City, the only medieval cathedral city in the Eastern Counties Premier League. Coggeshall are second in the league table with a goal difference of plus 93 whilst Ely (nickname The Robins) are bobbing along in mid-table somewhere. Ely are wearing an unusual all-green kit, rendered all the more unusual by red flashes under the armpits. If kits count for anything it’s already 1-0 to Coggeshall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The game begins frenetically and with a lot of shouting and swearing. “Don’t let ‘em settle”, “Fuckin’ get into ‘em” are the early cries along with inevitable “Second ball!” It’s a very Anglo-Saxon approach, which no doubt does a huge disservice to the somewhat forgotten, more artistic Anglo-Saxons responsible for all the lovely brooches and buckles. The harsh voices ring out through the cold night air. Ten minutes gone and Coggeshall have the first shot; number ten Ross Wall bearing down on goal from the right only to scuff his shot into the side netting.
Coggeshall seem in a hurry, but lack accuracy as a result and Ely are doing alright. It’s two minutes past eight and a ball to the left, then a ball over the top of the Coggeshall defence is struck deftly with the outside of his boot high into the Coggeshall goal by the Ely number nine Dan Brown, which is a great name for a bloke playing for a team from a medieval cathedral city. It’s to be hoped he’ll be drinking his half-time cuppa from some sort of grail. It’s a very fine goal indeed and a bunch of four or five well insulated people in front of us cheer and clap as if they have come all the way from Ely, and they probably have.
Ely are happily surprised, Coggeshall a bit taken aback, but as the first half proceeds it seems Ely are worth their lead. In their haste Coggeshall are forgetting to do anything in midfield and Ely are able have a decent amount of possession and prevent them from establishing any sort of passing rhythm. Five minutes later and the Ely ‘keeper is heard to shout “Keep going”, which seems a bit desperate when there’s still seventy minutes left; it’s a bit early to have considered not being able to carry on.
Further up the pitch the language is more colourful, or whatever colour the word “fuckin” is. “Fuckin’ ‘ell lino” someone exclaims and then Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson announces “That was a fuckin’ elbow”, he then repeats himself before running up to referee George Byrne to say “Ref, that was a fuckin’ elbow” , just in case he was in any doubt that it was a “fuckin’ elbow”.
They’re not playing well but Coggeshall have had a few corners and  are still getting chances to score; Wall first sends the ball past the other post and then has it saved by the Ely goalkeeper Ben Mayhew. Number nine Nnamdi Nwachuku swings his foot limply at the ball and misses it when he has just Ben Mayhew between him and the goal. “It’s coming” says a bloke on the path near us. He then says it again. There is a belief that if something is said enough it becomes reality and mysteriously this comes true as eventually Wall has a shot from about 10 metres out and several deflections later the ball flies past a startled Ben Mayhew off a nearby team mate and into the net. It’s about twenty past eight now and before half-time Paul volunteers to get us both a pounds worth of tea, which we have our hands cupped around as the players leave the field to encouraging shouts from both sets of supporters. Everybody can be happy and enjoy their tea, because no one is losing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My winter clothing (a pair of wool socks, a pair of football of socks (Portsmouth), a T-shirt, a long sleeve cotton football shirt (Brighton & Hove Albion), a woolly jumper, overcoat, scarf (Clermont Foot) and woolly hat (Ipswich Town)) is either very effective or it can’t be that cold because I don’t go into the clubhouse at half time, but instead stand with Paul and natter to Jimmy who plays guitar and to Keith who is retired and used to work in a bank. The hot tea must help mind.
The second half is soon with us and we wander to the other end of the ground to get a better view of the Coggeshall goals when they go in. Initially, nothing changes and Ely continue to be the better team in midfield, which gives them a chance. The Ely number eleven Josh Sewell is particularly good, despite looking like he may be carrying a few extra pounds, and he dances over and around the ball, dribbling and turning like a footballer should. The portly footballer, always a midfielder or occasionally a full-back is a joy to watch and every team should have one.
Coggeshall are still regularly getting forward however, although some of their supporters seem to have gained a somewhat unattractive sense of entitlement. “Jesus Chr-i-st” is the refrain as defender from the cathedral city team executes a tackle in the penalty area and a Coggeshall forward goes down; a barrage of gor-blimey complaining ensues. Two minutes later however, it’s all forgotten, although not by me obviously, as a cross from the left is deftly but firmly headed past Mayhew by Wall. The goal jogs the collective Coggeshall Town memory and they start to play properly in midfield too. Ten minutes later and Nwachuku cuts back and then unexpectedly hooks a shot from a narrow angle into the far top corner of the goal. He looks very pleased with himself, which in the circumstances is understandable, it was a pretty good goal.
Ely probably won’t come back from this but it doesn’t stop them trying. Coggeshall find it necessary to concede free-kicks to stop them and captain Luke Wilson is cautioned for his trouble by the gangly Mr Byrne, who with his very long neck is a strangely imposing figure as he holds his yellow card aloft. Meanwhile Wilson’s foul and caution cause apoplexy with one of tracky-bottomed members of the Ely management duo , who seems aggrieved that Wilson has not been sent off. In a fit of temper he kicks the woodwork of the dug-out and generally stomps about embarrassingly, displaying a regrettable absence of Corinthian spirit. The referee’s assistants are Kenneth Reeves and Jack Willmore and the bald one in the tight shirt who looks like he is probably Kenneth Reeves goes and has a word.
There is no let up in the competiveness or swearing which becomes more bizarre “Someone fuckin’ do it for me” shouts an unidentified player. It’s as if tonight someone has told the players not to bother about the Eastern Counties League’s “Keep it down for the kids” initiative to curb bad language; after all there are no programmes tonight carrying the reminder to everyone and it’s a school night anyway. Just before half past nine Wall scores a fourth as the ball drops to him conveniently just six metres from goal and he boots it into the roof of the net.
The result is settled but the entertainment continues and there is still time for Ely’s Tom Williams to clatter into a Coggeshall player from behind and get the benefit of Mr Byrne’s extended card bearing right arm. As the assaulted Coggeshall player lies prone on the ground the ball is kicked at him, or it at least hits him, even if not intentionally. “R-e-f, R-e-f, R-e-f” someone whines. “He fuckin’ kicked the ball at him”, “R-e-f , he fuckin’ kicked the ball at him, R-e-f” . I imagine the whiner’s mum had to put up with the same when he was younger. “M-u-m, m-u-m, m-u-m, she pulled a face at me mum” and then his teachers “ M-i-ss, M-i-ss, M-i-ss, can I go to the toilet?” Meanwhile the Ely goalkeeper leaves his goal to join in with the squabbling and do a “Yap, yap, yap” mime with his be-gloved right hand; he looks like he’s brought along a glove puppet and I am reminded of the late Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop.
The ensuing free-kick brings no further goals and with the cold having now penetrated my shoes, both pairs of socks and ascended up them to just below my knees, Mr Byrne’s final whistle is excellent relief. Paul and I turn smartly to the exit, I wave to Jimmy the guitarist and we are heading for Paul’s white Ford and the short trip home. As Paul reverses the Ford onto his driveway we reflect on a fine evening’s entertainment. Might do that again sometime.

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