Felixstowe & Walton United 2 Coggeshall Town 4

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


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

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

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

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

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Ipswich Wanderers 0 Coggeshall Town 3

The historic and much under-valued port and town of Ipswich has two senior clubs within the pyramid of non-league football, albeit clubs close to or at the base of that pyramid. Whitton United has been knocking around since the 1920’s and possibly before, but Ipswich Wanderers are up-starts by comparison, having begun in 1980 as a boys’ team and joined the Eastern Counties League in 1987 they only became Ipswich Wanderers in 1988. The Wanderers are now struggling uncomfortably close to the foot of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division, they are second from bottom and probably heading for relegation, whilst their opponents today from North Essex are second from top and keen to move up the pyramid from Step 5 to Step 4.

The Wanderers’ home on Humber Doucy Lane is on the north eastern edge of the town in a semi-rural setting which is actually within the village of Rushmere St Andrew. The environmentally responsible can access the ground by bus; not some country service that runs the third Tuesday of every month, but by Ipswich Buses route No 6 running every 20 minutes from Tower Ramparts bus station and passing near enough to leave just a five minute walk to the ground. But today I, along with my wife have been to visit my mum, so somewhat shamefully we have travelled by car.

It is a beautifully sunny, clear, winter’s day, some might think it spring-like, but it’s still a

 

bit too damp and chilly for that. We draw up into the large car park at ‘the Doucy’, parking on the grass behind the blue metal fence and the row of low metal-roofed stands. It’s ten to three and most people who are going to be here are here. An impressive row of portakabins line the route to the entrance, Ipswich Wanderers may be struggling on the pitch but they have portakabins to spare. The entrance, although it is a

 

couple of metres wide has a turnstile set on one side. I pay our entrance money (£6 each) to the cheery, welcoming gateman who records our presence with another couple of strikes from his biro on a piece of paper marked with ‘five bar gates’. We step past the turnstile, which I turn manually, just for fun so that it clicks twice; the gateman gets the joke, such as it is. I am disappointed to hear however that the programmes have sold out (normally £1.50).
Inside the ground the teams come onto the pitch to the strains of Dion’s “The Wanderer” but minus the words, meanwhile I fetch a couple of teas (£1 each) and start to see people I know; there’s Ipswich Town fan John, whose sister is serving in the tea hut, his friend

 

Michael, Jimmy from Coggeshall who introduces me to his friend Shane, Keith and Jim who live down the road from me, Geoff the Coggeshall Town turnstile operator with his slicked back hair and pint in hand, and quietly spoken Paul who runs the Coggeshall Town website and films the match. Feeling thoroughly at home, I stand my tea on the perimeter wall and Coggeshall Town kick the game off in their black and red striped shirts and black shorts travelling towards the battered, cream coloured, metal fence and equally battered looking and hacked about row of conifers at the Rushmere Road end of the ground. Ipswich Wanderers are in all blue and the scene is a colourful one with the clear sky, backdrop of conifers and the chill in the air lending it a Nordic feel, as if we might all have come to see Osterlenn FF versus Solvesborgs.

Coggeshall are soon dominating play and most of the game is being played out in the Wanderers’ half of the pitch. There are a couple of close calls for the Wanderers and it’s barely 3:15 when a free-kick on the right is brought down by Coggeshall number 7 Tom Monk, who then turns and half volleys into the corner of the net to give the ‘Seedgrowers’ of Coggeshall the lead. The good following of fans from Coggeshall cheer and the Wanderers fans look on stoically having seen it all before. I stand with Paul who is filming the match from between two of the three wonderful ‘home-made’ looking stands on the Humber Doucy Lane side of the ground. In front of us the Wanderers’ kit man bobs up and down making sure there is always another ball available every time one is booted out into the car park, which happens quite often. He curses Paul’s camera

 

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and doesn’t seem happy in his work as he mutters profanities at the players of both teams when they don’t get the ball back into play as quickly as he’d like; he’s doing a worthwhile job though. I take a wander to view the game from behind the Coggeshall goal and then return to find my wife talking to Keith and Jim; they used to divide their football habit between Colchester United and Wivenhoe Town, but Coggeshall is much closer and have now taken Wivenhoe’s place as their second team. Keith is an upright, tall man whilst Dave is quite small; they make me think of Yogi and Boo Boo. Although I don’t think they’d nick anyone’s picnic or packed lunch, I think Keith would suit a hat.

Coggeshall still dominate but are struggling to turn possession into clear cut chances let alone goals. The Wanderers are in combative mood and always able to get a head or a foot in the way when it counts and when that fails their goal keeper Jack Spurling is always in just the right place to collect the ball. It takes until twenty to four for Wanderers to have a shot on goal as their lanky number 9 Ashley Rankin chases a punt forward and despite an over heavy first touch strikes a first time shot from a narrow angle, which the Coggeshall ‘keeper James Bransgrove parries before smothering. There’s still time for another Coggeshall attack, which Ipswich clear but not without a bit of a panic. It’s been a typically noisy game but now for the first time we get some really loud swearing; “Play the fucking ball deep” somebody shouts, forgetting to ‘Keep it down for the kids’.

Half-time arrives amongst lengthening shadows and it’s been a reasonably entertaining half. Coggeshall are clearly the better side going forward but Ipswich Wanderers have competed and defended well enough to thoroughly frustrate them and the result is still

 

in the balance. We saunter towards the club house and the tea hut where I join a queue, which moves very slowly. As I reach the head of the queue there seems to be some sort of hiatus in the kitchen; one of my teas is placed before me but then there’s a delay and the kitchen staff gather round the large urn of hot water; one of the ‘tea-ladies’ turns towards me “I am sorry” she says sincerely “The lid of the tea pot has fallen in the urn”. The tallest person in the kitchen carefully fishes out said teapot lid, happily avoids serious scalding and I get the second tea just as the teams are coming out for the second half. Phew.

The long shadows have made the stand side of the ground even chillier than before so we crave what little warmth there is from the winter sun and stand behind the goal that Coggeshall are now attacking. Within minutes of the re-start Coggeshall score a second goal. A ball forward sees Tom Monk bearing down on Wanderer’s number five who struggles and slips and Monk is through on goal. From the corner of the box he wellies the ball solidly against the inside of the far post and a satisfying metallic crack rings out as the ball ricochets across into the far corner of the net; on the goal line Jack Spurling reacts quickly enough to turn and see his undoing. I feel blessed, I had a great view of the goal, but also if the ball hadn’t hit the post it would have hit me, and I would surely have dropped my tea.

The second half follows the pattern of the first with Coggeshall providing all the best bits, but Jack Spurling is providing his own one man show with call after catch after save after dive; a giant of a man having a giant of a match. The stand behind the goal is another beautiful self-build, with corrugated sheeting over a frame of scaffolding poles and a floor of paving slabs; it strongly reminds me of the metal bus shelters that used to stand on the Cornhill in front of Ipswich’s marvellous town hall, which incidentally has its 150th anniversary this year. Behind the dugout a tall green metal pole that looks like it might once have held up trolley bus wires adds to a likeable look of municipal knock-offs.

Architecturally the ‘Doucy is a treasure and today it is illuminated to advantage by the low winter sun. The crooked roof on the terrace is as quaint as any crooked half-timber Tudor house in Coggeshall, whilst the wooden tip-up seats (possibly from the director’s box at Portman Road?) are also something to admire. Strangely, overall it reminds me inexplicably of the stadium of an amateur club from Balaruc les Bains near Montpellier in southern France (see previous blog post in September 2017). In a way this is appropriate because supposedly the name Humber Doucy is derived from the French ‘ombres douces’ meaning soft shadows, which is how Napoleonic prisoners of war referred to the lane as they sought shade, having been working out in the open fields. I like to think they had a kick about too with berets and strings of onions for goalposts.

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The sunny side of the ground is more popular this half and the size of the crowd is doubled by the soft shadows on the metal fence behind.

In the ‘Cornhill bus shelter’ a bunch of lads sing occasional songs, ironically aping those sometimes heard at Portman Road.    Twice Coggeshall ‘score’ only to see the flag of linesman Mr Elwalawang delete the achievement and the lads amuse themselves with a rendition of “You thought you had scored, you were wrong, you were wrong”. They progress later onto “You are my Wanderers, my only Wanderers you make me happy when skies are grey”. A gang of older men with silver hair stand in a group close to the corner; laughing and being blokes they are the singing lads fifty years on. A couple of them hadn’t noticed the score is now 2-0. A man who recognises me from pre-match drinking at St Jude’s Tavern says hello.

The shadows of trees forty metres behind the ground now stretch right across the pitch and I move to stand with Paul who has placed his camera in the corner of the ground by the club house; he has very kindly managed to get a programme for me through his contacts with the Coggeshall club officials. Mild-mannered Paul is secretly seething however, because the kit man caused him to miss the second Coggeshall goal, but a third goal, probably the best of the match hopefully applies balm to soothe his troubled brow. Coggeshall’s substitute Aaron Cosgrave repeats a trick of running along the edge of the box, taunting the Wanderers defence with his close control before eventually the ball runs to number nine Ross Wall who sends it firmly and neatly into the corner of the net from 20 metres or so.

There are only a couple of minutes to play now and Paul is wishing them away because on his own admission he is a bit under dressed today and is therefore freezing cold. The final whistle from referee Mr Carter is consequently a welcome sound. It’s been an enjoyable afternoon of decent football played competitively and sportingly in a quirky stadium of soft shadows and scaffolding poles. Ipswich’s Jack Spurling has been a colossus and a lesser goalkeeper might have let in six or seven. Coggeshall win, but Wanderers have the best player on the field .

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Coggeshall Town 5 Wivenhoe Town 0

It is Friday and at last after four consecutive games at Portman Road, the chance to enjoy the relaxed, happy atmosphere of local non-league football and the associated audible swearing from the players and coaches. It’s a typically cold winter’s evening and just a short drive to Coggeshall from my house. The streets of Coggeshall are quiet and dark, but the fluorescent light of the local Co-op shines like a beacon drawing me in to buy dairy-free white chocolate for dairy intolerant Mrs Brooks, who is unable to come out on a cold night like tonight because her asthma won’t allow it. I’d hate to miss the game because I was stuck in the back of an ambulance with her; in sickness and in health etc.
Back on the road the narrow streets of Coggeshall are suddenly busy with traffic coming in the opposite direction so progress is slow, but at length I turn into the rough car park where a sizeable collection of automobiles is bathed in the soft light spilling out beyond the ‘stadium’ from the floodlights. Football in the evening is all about the lights.

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There is a queue at the turnstile, not really because of large numbers of people wanting to get in but more because the fella on the gate likes to have a chat with everyone and entreat them to ‘enjoy the match’; he has a beer and a fag on the go and says it’s nice to see me again as I hand over a tenner and the odd 50p to cover the £6 entry and £1.50 programme and already I feel pleased to be here.
Just inside the stadium tonight a local Nimby group called PAIN (Parishes Against Incinerator) have a table set up and are collecting signatures from anyone wanting to object to plans to build an incinerator at nearby Rivenhall. Seeing as Rivenhall straddles the river of carbon monoxide and diesel particulates that is the A12 my initial reaction is that a little ‘cleaned up’ smoke from a very tall chimney would be rather lovely by comparison and it seems preferable to landfill, but I don’t know the full facts; I don’t sign up but take a page of tightly typed A4 to learn more.

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Heading along the path towards the clubhouse I meet four Wivenhoe fans I know; four of the self-styled SOBS (Sad Old Bastards) who have followed ‘The Dragons’ through thin and thin since the 1990’s. One of them jokes about coming to visit the home of one of the nouveau-riche of non-league. These guys don’t care overly that Wivenhoe are bottom of the league with a goal difference of minus 66 after 30 games (Coggeshall are fourth with a goal difference of plus 66 after 26 games), they just like football and having a good time watching it; I see them as Messiahs, placed on earth to show supporters of professional clubs the error of their football supporting ways. Further along the path I meet Paul my next door neighbour and then speak with Miguel, brother of Ipswich Town’s Tristan Nydam and a player and youth coach for Wivenhoe.
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coffee and beer and scoffing sausage rolls, waiting for the teams to emerge from the ship-lap clad changing rooms. I look at the team sheet, pinned to the outside wall. I like the names Ross de Brick and Kyan Gulliver who, along with Gary C Birdett, sound like they might have been in a 1960’s American ‘garage’ band. Amusingly, long serving Wivenhoe

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centre-half Tim Dennis has been re-named on the team sheet as Dennis Timothy.

It is 7.45 and the game begins with Coggeshall in their red and black striped shorts and black shorts kicking towards the clubhouse; Wivenhoe are in all blue. It’s all quite keenly contested but Coggeshall are clearly the more talented side and just before 8 o’clock number seven Tom Monk hooks a shot into the top corner of the Wivenhoe goal from about 20 metres. I stand on the grassy bank that looks down on the pitch with Jonny, one of the SOBS; we talk about football and Jonny tells me about an interesting book he has read called The Chimp Paradox which is about how our minds work. Jonny’s advice is to get a copy and rip out about the first thirty pages, read them and throw the rest away because it gets repetitive after that. Twenty-four minutes of the game have passed and ‘The Seedgrowers’ number nine, Nnamdi Nwatchuku shoots across the Wivenhoe goalkeeper from a narrowish angle to put Coggeshall 2-0 up. .Six minutes later Nnamdi scores again; the most spectacular goal of the night, a shot from 20 metres-odd into the top right hand corner of the goal. Seven minutes after that and Coggeshall score a fourth goal and Jonny and I have no need for a telescope as we get a perfect view of a free-kick, which is swept over the defensive wall and just inside the far post by number eight Conor Hubble.
Half-time comes and I join the queue for a pounds worth of tea. “Man United are winning 1-0” says a bloke in front of me to his ponytailed friend. “Fuck, it’s Cup weekend innit” says the ponytail. The bloke in front of me gets a Twix and the teams are returning to the pitch just as I get my tea and add a splash of milk from a six pint plastic bottle of Cravendale. The girl behind me in the queue asks “Can I get a tea and a coffee?” That’s an odd use of English I think to myself. If I was the young girl in the tea bar I think I would reply that she can have a tea and coffee, but I will get them for her. I don’t often think about being a young girl in a tea bar, but know that the girl in this tea bar needs some help at half-time because there is still a queue for teas and sausage rolls
Wivenhoe have a substitute on for the second half, but within five minutes they are five-nil down as Coggeshall substitute Aaron Cosgrove scores from not too far out at an oblique angle. I am now standing with Bob and Rich’, two more SOBS who I know from my own days watching Wivenhoe, but then I wander off to talk to Paul my next door neighbour and just watch the game from different perspectives, because I can. Behind the goal that backs on to the car park a group of six or seven nine or ten year old girls muck about and do handstands, they’re here to see teeny bopper heart throb Olly Murs, who is on the Coggeshall bench but not named as a substitute; his uncle runs the place.
Despite being second best by some way, some of the Wivenhoe players seem very committed to the cause and they shout and remonstrate with one another as things inevitably go wrong; at one point it looks like they might come to blows. There is much waving of arms and shouting and I’m struck by the fact that the only word I can really make out from any of these animated conversations is “fuck”. One or two players also seem to spend quite a bit of time lying very still on the damp turf. Fortunately they

recover and play on, but it can’t be good for them. A Wivenhoe player lies prone in his own penalty area but the game carries on. When the Wivenhoe goalkeeper eventually gets to boot the ball into touch the game is stopped and Wivenhoe’s ginger-haired number four proceeds to berate the referee Mr Andrew Gray angrily; I am amazed he is not booked, many a more sensitive referee would have sent him off for such front.
One of the Wivenhoe defenders is a large man and although it is a cold night he appears to be sweating more than his team mates and his visibly damp shirt clings to his back unpleasantly. Wivenhoe rarely venture beyond their own half in any numbers but they are now managing to plug the gaps a bit more successfully, although Coggeshall still miss several ‘sitters’. At one point a Coggeshall shot smacks against the cross bar and rebounds down bouncing close to the goal line. None of the players appeal for a goal and play just carries on, but a couple of blokes stood up on the concrete path are adamant the ball was over the line; who needs goal line technology when there are a couple of blokes with beers stood forty yards away.

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Surprisingly, no more goals are scored, although the contest is still kean with plenty of neat football played, particularly by Coggeshall who have looked very good tonight, despite not scoring as many goals as they often do against the weaker teams in the division. I have returned to stand with Rich’ and Bob, who has offered me a mint which I am sucking upon as Mr Gray blows his whistle for the final time. We hang around as the players leave the field and wait to have our photos taken with Olly Murs. I talk to another Paul who the programme says is Coggeshall’s Football Analyst/Media Manager before finally heading out into the car park. On my way out I wander through the now empty stand, erected in 1964, and look at the signs and foam padding, placed on the stanchions to protect the skulls of people taller than five foot four. Outside on the grassy bank there are rabbit droppings. I head into the car park with a car load of SOBS who are still in good spirits, we wish each other well ‘until the next time’. It’s been a good evening.

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!

Whitton United 5 Coggeshall Town 4

The Eastern Counties First Division is the tenth tier of English football, just a few seats, some floodlights and a half-time plate of sandwiches for the opposition committee separates it  from the clubs that play on a piece of waste ground and use jumpers for goalposts, well  almost.  But that doesn’t mean clubs at this level don’t have history; Whitton United have been going since 1926 and Coggeshall Town since 1878, the same year as mighty, illustrious Ipswich Town, former League Champions, FA Cup, UEFA Cup and Texaco Cup winners.

It says in the match programme that a Whitton team existed in the late 1800’s, back when Whitton was a small village a mile or more outside Ipswich.  But between the World Wars Ipswich Corporation, as it was then, began to build the Whitton estate providing much needed,  good quality, rented housing for working class people.  Whitton is now a part of Ipswich, and if supporters in the Eastern Counties league did sing (with the notable exception of Wivenhoe Town’s they tend not to) they could chant “Small club in Ipswich, You’re just a small club in Ipswich” without fear of contradiction.

Whitton United is a rare thing in the Eastern Counties League, a team representing a truly urban area, and more than that it might be said to represent a large council estate.  The contrast with Coggeshall therefore is on the face of it quite stark.  Coggeshall, with its National Trust owned medieval buildings and its vineyard and ley lines is positively poncey by comparison.  The other big difference is that Coggeshall Town are being bankrolled; there are stories of players attracted from beyond Essex on the promise of big appearance money.  The realisation of this is shown in their relative league positions with Coggeshall currently top of the table, where they have been virtually all season, whilst Whitton are merely near the top of the bottom half of the table, albeit on a roll of five consecutive victories.

The King George V Fields ground is outside the Whitton estate next to the main road out of town towards the A14 and Stowmarket.   A third of the pitch is overlooked by a large heap of rubble that was once the concrete floor of the Tooks bakery (aka bread factory), formerly the club’s neighbour. Behind one goal there is no accommodation for spectators whatsoever, just a stretch of grass from the goal net to a very big fence, with the road beyond.   There is a stand on each of the other three sides; two of them resembling country bus shelters, one of which is labelled ‘The Shed’; whilst downhill, behind the other goal is a pre- fabricated, metal stand containing the requisite number of seats for the club to play in the Eastern Counties Premier League. should the need arise.  The changing rooms have a wonderful green and white striped tin roof.

It’s a grey, blustery afternoon with a constant threat of rain, but the two teams in their striped kits, Whitton in green and white and Coggeshall in red and black stand out through the gloom and offer the promise of excitement.  I wander around the perimeter rail before the game kicks off and a bloke on his way to one of those ‘bus shelters’ and carrying a couple of pints of beer says hello; “ We need a good result today after last week” he says.  I have no idea what either team did last week, but I agree because it would be churlish and a bit weird not to do so and I’m not one to start an argument with someone I don’t really know.  To begin with, the promise of a good game is all there  as the ball bounces awkwardly on the soft pitch and is buffeted by the wind, producing a scrappy match with neither team looking much good.  Despite kicking up the not inconsiderable slope and against the wind however, Coggeshall gradually start to look the stronger team.

I walk round the back of the dugouts and towards the end of the ground where the only spectators are those in passing cars and buses who are probably surprised to find themselves watching a football match, albeit for a few fleeting seconds only.  One or two beep their car horns as they drive by.  Coggeshall are kicking towards the goal at this end and it doesn’t take long before they score, a close range tap-in from Scarlett, despite claims of offside from Whitton.  Somewhat bizarrely Coggeshall’s number four is booked in the aftermath and from what I can make of what referee Mr Pope seems to be saying, it is because he egged on the Whitton players in their offside protests. ‘You started it’ I think I hear the Pope say as if scolding Martin Luther.  The same player is then spoken to again by his holiness and told to concentrate just on the football by the Coggeshall coach; “I only said bad luck baldy” the player opines after Whitton’s follicly challenged centre-half concedes a free-kick on the edge of his own penalty area.

I drift back towards the Whitton bench having had enough of the Essex club’s manager’s questioning of Mr Pope and decide to briefly compare and contrast him with the Whitton manager.  I conclude that the Whitton man mostly complains to himself and to the bench in a sort of audible internal dialogue.  The results of the comparison fit with my own pre-conceived ideas of Ipswich and Essex people.  Happily for Whitton however, my move into their half coincides with a couple of attacks down the left, one of which results in a free-kick and ends with an unexpected, but not completely undeserved equaliser from Bell.

Half-time arrives with scores all square and I indulge in a pounds worth of tea and a warm in the clubhouse, although I have to be let in because the door only seems to open from the inside.  I return to pitch side too late for the re-start, but haven’t missed anything and take up a spot in the seats behind the goal.  It starts to rain.

With the wind at their backs and playing down the slope it seems like it might be easier for Coggeshall in the second half and gradually, as in the first half they begin to dominate the attacking play, but without really making any decent chances to score; then, a break down the left, a through ball and a goal for Whitton by Percy (sadly his surname not his first name).   It’s a bit of a surprise but the game returns to its previous pattern and with about fifteen minutes left, after some more Coggeshall domination the ball is crossed low, blocked and partly cleared before the Coggeshall substitute Guthmy coolly places the ball in the middle of the goal to equalise.  Now it really looks like Coggeshall will go on to win and that’s what the bloke behind me tells his children when they ask.

The good thing about football however is that is totally unpredictable, which is why all these ‘sports betting companies’ (bookies) advertise relentlessly to part mugs with their money.  Proof of football’s unpredictably arrived within just a minute or two as a deep cross from a corner was headed in at the far post by Griggs to put Whitton ahead again and then within minutes of that a through ball saw  Cheetham brought down in the box resulting in a penalty which gave Whitton a 4-2 lead. The rain had now eased and I stepped out of the stand so that I didn’t have to peer through a goal net and another bigger net placed across the front of the stand to protect inattentive spectators from stray footballs that might inadvertently smack them in the chops when they were looking at their mobile phones rather than the game; serves ‘em right I say.  Barely had I done this and with about six minutes left Whitton scored yet again with Cheetham ‘converting’ a cross by the beautifully named Franco Mallardo.

Surely that was it, 5-2 with just five minutes left? But no, Coggeshall rightly decided that the game wasn’t over until his holiness Mr Pope says so, and just as I would never leave a game before the final whistle, so the ‘Seedgrowers’ , for that is what their nickname is, continued to try and win the match.  And it was a good job they did or this report would be over already.  First, continuing the ecclesiastical surname theme started by the referee, Monk made it 5-3 with a fine half volley from the edge of the penalty area,  and a short while later he then crossed the ball for Nwachuku to smack a fourth goal high in to the Whitton United net.  There was still enough time for a free kick on the edge of the penalty area to be sent over the Whitton cross bar, but finally Mr Pope whistled Amen and the game was over.

It had been a most entertaining game, even if some of the defending had at times been hard to spot, and in difficult conditions on an awkward slopey pitch the players of both teams had given their all.  I was surprised therefore and disappointed that at the end no one clapped or cheered as the two teams left the pitch; but no one booed either, so it was one up on Portman Road I guess.   The 5-4 score line alone deserved some appreciation, but there was nothing, not a cough, not a wheeze, not even a tiny chortle. Everyone just filed away into the car park.   To an extent, at this level of football the result doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the two clubs are still there each week to play; this is perhaps true more for a real community club like Whitton United than a club like Coggeshall Town which has been adopted by someone with spare cash like a mini Roman Abramovich.

There was apparently only a crowd of 57 at this match, which is disappointing for a Saturday when Ipswich Town are not playing, and looking about there were very few people under thirty there.  A football match where you can drink in sight of the pitch should be a massive draw and at £6.00 entrance fee it provides good value for money compared to the £40 Norwich City wanted from IpswichTown fans to get into Carrow Road the following day.

Eastern Counties League Football should be the model for sustainable football, so I urge you, support your local team, it’s friendly, it’s funny, it’s fun, it is well worth it.  I had a lovely time.  Thank you Whitton United.