Lakenheath 2 Mulbarton Wanderers 0


The village of Lakenheath, in the top left hand corner of Suffolk beyond Mildenhall is some 69 kilometres from the County Town of Ipswich, about an hour’s drive along the A14, the A1101 and then the B1112.  Lakenheath has a railway station but hardly any trains stop there.    If you want to watch Lakenheath FC play on a Saturday afternoon and you really, really want to travel by train two journeys are possible; leaving Ipswich at 8am and 8.08am these take you via Ely and Thetford or via Norwich and Thetford arriving at twenty four minutes past ten, giving you ample time to walk or even crawl the near 4.5 kilometres to Lakenheath village; no buses pass the station.  You’ll need to take a sleeping bag because there is no train back from Lakenheath until the next day.  If however, you like a lie-in on a Saturday morning but are still committed to saving the planet by using public transport then from Ipswich it is easier and quicker to catch the 11:20 train to Bury St Edmunds from where Mulley’s Motorways service 955 to Mildenhall connects with Coach Services service 201, which arrives ‘outside the post box’ (as opposed to inside it) at Lakenheath at 13.33.  Getting back is difficult however because the last bus out of Lakenheath arrives in Mildenhall at 18.18, eight minutes after the last bus departed for Bury.  The only way to return from Lakenheath therefore is to catch the 18.58 number 200 bus to Thetford, which is perfectly timed to arrive one minute after the train to Ely for the onward connection to Ipswich left at 19:24.  The next train from Thetford is the 19:54 to Norwich from where a connection arrives back in Ipswich at 21:41.   The on-line timetables tell us that the bus ‘services’ are supported by Suffolk County Council, but it’s as if they are trying to make them unusable, perhaps so a lack of passengers will justify not supporting them in the future.

With the best part of seven hours being a lot of time to spend on travelling to a ‘local’ football match, my wife Paulene and I reluctantly dodge the pleas of Greta Thurnberg and climb in to our trusty Citroen C3.  Sadly, it’s not such a fine day to go travelling either, with low grey clouds, a strong blustery wind and the threat of rain casting foreboding over the Suffolk landscape.  The countryside is bleak on a day such as this, although the open fields of Breckland with their rows of contorted Scots Pine trees (pine lines) leaning with the prevailing wind give this corner of Suffolk a distinctive character. 

Lakenheath has a long broad main street; we pass the medieval church of St Mary the Virgin on our right and at the instruction of our French speaking satnav turn a droite into Wing Street and then a gauche into a rough car park and the gateway to ‘The Pit’ or ‘The Nest’ as Lakenheath’s football ground is known.  Access is down a rough slope and round a sharp corner into another small rough car park; the site is an old chalk pit or quarry.  We’ve definitely come to the right place as the Mulbarton Wanderers team bus is parked opposite and they are today’s opponents. 

Tall trees surround us on three sides and as I lock up the Citroen Paulene takes crunchy footsteps across the car park to the small wooden turnstile hut without a turnstile.   Paulene asks the man in the wooden hut how old you have to be to be considered a pensioner but he doesn’t answer and charges us full price (£5 each), we buy a programme too (£1).  The  players are out on the pitch warming up as we head for the clubhouse; Paulene remarks on the dugouts being on the far side of the pitch and admits to having hated having to trudge across the pitch from the changing room to the dugout in her time as  physio with Wivenhoe Town.  It looks like Lakenheath have recently moved theirs to the other side of the pitch, perhaps to improve the view from the stand.

The clubhouse is spacious, if a little dark as a result, but the bar and barmaid are bright and welcoming and I order a glass of rose for Paulene; sadly there is no real ale so I take a deep breath and order a half of Greene King IPA ‘Smooth’, although I would prefer almost any other beer, even if it’s rough; the two drinks cost £5.30.  We sit at a table by a window.  The TV is on but a caption says there is no signal, perhaps because we are in the bottom of a quarry.  Without TV to dull people’s minds the room is filled with the sound of conversation but also the thumping rhythm of loud music from the changing rooms next door; I like to imagine it’s the referees not the players making the noise and that they are stood in their pants singing into hairbrushes and playing air-guitar .  At the table behind us three middle-aged men talk very loudly as if trying to be heard above the sound of jet engines at the nearby air force base. They discuss retired footballers, most of whom are now dead.  Although this is a far flung corner of Suffolk, the twang of London accents is evident.  A man in a yellow and black jacket sells us a strip of yellow draw tickets, Nos 481 to 485.  As usual I am destined not to win; the seller has got to me four strips too early.

Time passes quickly and it’s almost five to three. The loud men behind us have already left and we follow suit, downing what’s left of our drinks before braving the breezy outdoors; we both have our woolly hats on today.   The two teams line up behind the referee Mr Cameron Saunders and his two assistants Messrs Andrew Hardy and Lewis Lofts, who sounds like he might offer to board over your attic.  The group marches on to the pitch but quickly break formation, not hanging round for any ritual handshaking as happens at higher levels of the game.

Lakenheath get first go with the ball kicking towards Wing Street and wearing green shirts with white shorts and socks, they look a bit like French Ligue 2 club Red Star.  Mulbarton Wanderers are in all pale blue with shirts sponsored by ‘Pip’s Skips’ and they play in the direction of the railway line far off to the north.  The early pace of the game is fast with a clear desire to get the ball forward quickly.  Mulbarton soon settle but look lightweight up front.  Despite the blustery wind and a hard and uneven looking pitch some of the football is neat and good to watch.  For both these clubs it’s their first ever season in the Eastern Counties League First Division,  step-six of non-league football, and both have done well, with Mulbarton guaranteed a third place finish and Lakenheath set to finish fifth in the nineteen team league if they win today.

Weirdly Lakenheath don’t seem to have a team captain, with no one wearing an armband and no one annotated as such on the team sheet.  As much as a sort of football-collective seems a good idea, their goal keeper Frank Gammon, which incidentally I think is a great name, seems to be taking on the mantle however, with his constant encouragement and advice from the penalty area.  “Win your battles”, “Left Shoulder”, “No foul” he shouts, continuously.   But he’s doing a good job and Mulbarton are kept at bay without much difficulty.  Lakenheath seem to have just one striker, number nine Shaun Avis who the programme tells me has scored 15 goals in just seven games this season, which is rather impressive.  He looks lively but misses the two chances he has, taking the ball around the Mulbarton keeper Tom Wright by the corner of the penalty area, but then going for the spectacular and achieving it with a spectacularly high and wide shot before also glancing a free header wide of the goal.

Paulene and I take a stroll around to take in the ambiance of ‘The Pit’, which we both agree is a much better name than ‘The Nest’ not just because it is devoid of unfortunate associations with Norwich City, which is very important in Suffolk.  It’s a name that makes me think of Clive King’s children’s novel ‘Stig of the Dump’  and I imagine a variation of the story in which a boy makes friends with a team of Neolithic footballers and helps them erect a goal, which looks uncannily like Stonehenge.   This is a lovely football ground, the steep sides of the former quarry and the tall trees acting like natural substitutes for tall stands and creating a sense of enclosure which few non-league grounds even at much higher levels can rival.  Sadly it’s a grey day today but it must be beautiful in the sunshine; even today there is birdsong and  the tall trees sway eerily in the wind; wild flowers grow behind the goal lines and one corner of the pitch is covered in daisies, albeit closed up ones.  Sadly, it’s not yet possible to walk all around the pitch but a concrete path behind the dug-outs and right hand goal form the man stand is due to be completed in the close season.

Back on the pitch, Mulbarton appeal for a penalty. “Handball!” shouts someone, “Rubbish” shouts someone else in response from the stand.  Either way no one seems to much like referee Mr Saunders and someone else shouts “Referee, you’re getting worse”.  I am slightly suspicious of Mr Saunders myself, his hair is just a bit too neat; he could be a Jehovah’s witness or a Mormon. Meanwhile on the near touchline to the stand the grey-haired, be-spectacled referee’s assistant reminds me of a conductor on the Eastern Counties buses I used catch to school.

Half-time arrives and I depart for the clubhouse where there is a short queue at the bar for teas and coffees.  As I queue the half-time draw is made; ticket number 501 wins first prize and the man behind me in the queue discovers he is the winner, but at least I get my tea before him.   The tea (£1 per ‘cup’) is poured from a large pot into china mugs, this is sadly something that happens almost nowhere else in senior football any more but it should.  If a football club is happy to get the china out it makes you feel like a human being, not as if any old plastic or polystyrene receptacle will do just to get another quid out of you; it feels like they want people to enjoy this tea, as if they care; and a very good cup of tea it is too.  We drink our tea in the small brick stand, a homely and utilitarian structure with wooden benches, it’s beautifully dilapidated and I hope it’s never demolished to make way for one of the boring modern, ‘meccano’ stands.

Paulene and I are refreshed and the game begins again at precisely three minutes past four. Within six minutes Lakenheath are ahead.  No one seems quite sure why, although importantly Mulbarton players do not seem to be complaining, but Mr Saunders awards a penalty to Lakenheath and  top scorer Kelvin Enaro scores his twenty eighth goal of the season,  booting the ball to Tom Wright’s right as he collapses to his knees.   With a goal lead Lakenheath are more relaxed; the pace of the game is a little slower and the passing more accurate and more controlled, there’s less anxiety.   Mulbarton look even less likely to score than they did in the first half, but do claim the first booking of the match as their number seven, the splendidly named Dom Doggett,  incurs Mr Saunders’ wrath for a foul.  It’s not long before Doggett is substituted for number fourteen, Charlie Norman. 

For a while the game drifts and I listen to the birdsong and enjoy the lush greenery of the quarry banks.   A tall, grey-haired man walks up into the stand carrying a match ball. “Man of the match Dave? What did you do, score a hat-trick?” asks a voice at the back.   Eventually Lakenheath win a corner and the action steps up a gear. “Come on Heath” shouts a man in the stand; it’s not a very imaginative nickname for the club but it follows the pattern set at nearby Mildenhall who are known as ‘The Hall’.  Personally, I reckon they should be known as ‘The Quarrymen’ .   After one corner, follows another as a shot flashes past the post, deflected away by the Mulbarton defence.   It’s twenty-five past four and Frank Gammon sends a kick deep into the Mulbarton half, the bounce fools the Mulbarton defence and number eleven James McCabe runs on to poke the ball over Tom Wright’s head and puts  ‘The Heath’ (‘The Quarrymen’) two-nil up. 

With the second goal the game changes and seems to lose the reserve it showed earlier. Lakenheath miss open-goals and hit the cross-bar whilst Mr Saunders the referee becomes rather officious and begins to wave his yellow card about with gay-abandon, booking players on both teams, mostly it appears for whinging and whining rather than anything particularly serious.  I think it’s his way of adding to the entertainment, everyone loves a good moan about the referee.   But happily if there is any ill-feeling it doesn’t last and with the final whistle Mr Saunders and his assistants stand together to receive the handshakes of both teams.

As the stand empties out after the game we stop and talk for several minutes with three people in orange hi-viz jackets, who are temporarily working on the air base, it’s almost as if we don’t want to leave.   Driving back home along the B1112 Paulene and I reflect on our afternoon at ‘The Pit’ and both agree that we’ve had a most enjoyable time and importantly have witnessed a Suffolk team beating a Norfolk one which in my mind at least helps redress the recent imbalance between Ipswich Town and Norwich City.   We look forward to returning on a sunny day.

Hadleigh United 1 Gorleston 4

 

It’s not been possible to travel by passenger train to Hadleigh since 1932, but today the number 91 bus will get you there from Ipswich, although it only does so every 90 minutes. The 15 kilometre bus journey takes about half an hour.  To catch the number 91 bus I would first have to board the train to Ipswich and in half the time it would take me to do that and then catch the bus I could have driven to Hadleigh, parked my Citroen C3, had a cup of tea, bought and read the programme and probably done a few other things too.

Today therefore, despite the carbon emissions, I shall drive to see Hadleigh United play Gorleston in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division.  Consequently I am thankful to Andre-Gustave Citroen, founder of the Citroen car company and am pleased that I metaphorically doffed my cap to what is left of his mortal remains in Montparnasse cemetery when in Paris last month.

Having left the A12, it’s a pleasant drive on a bright autumn afternoon through Holton St Mary and Raydon along the twisting and rolling B1070 into Hadleigh.    Wikipedia tells us that Hadleigh has over 200 listed buildings and arriving in the town into Benton Street there are a good number of them as the jettied timbers, steep gables and leaded windows evidence.  On into High Street and left into Duke Street, across the remarkable fourteenth century, three arched Toppesfield Bridge  (Grade II* listed) and then left  into Tinkers Lane, Hadleigh United’s ground ‘The Millfield’ is at the end.

Although it’s only just gone two-thirty, the car park is already full and I am ushered ‘off-road’ through a gate and across the turf behind one of the goals to join a row of cars lined up at the edge of the practice pitch.  Leaving my trusty Citroen, I walk back behind the goal and ask the man who directed me through the gate if I need to go back out and

come back in through the turnstile.  Apparently I don’t; today is Hadleigh United ‘Community Mascot Day’ and it’s ‘pay what you want’.    There is no turnstile at Hadleigh, which is a shame, but I find a man guarding the collecting bucket.  I fish a fiver from my wallet and a pound coin from my pocket and give it to him because six quid is about the going rate for Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League Football I reckon.  I don’t want to do them down, but equally I’m not about to make a charitable donation.  I ask how much a programme is and the man with the bucket says I have already paid, but I give him a quid anyway because that’s what it would normally cost.  I don’t really understand the rationale behind a ‘pay what you want’ day, do the club hope everyone will just hand over a tenner?  Nevertheless, I live for the day that Ipswich Town have one, although I suspect I will have to live a bloody long time.

There’s still some time to go before kick-off so I pop into the clubhouse and bar to admire the old black and white pictures of bygone teams , I am impressed by a photo of Hadleigh Juniors, which the caption says were winners of the Chelsworth ‘Boys’ Cup, despite that fact that all the players look about forty-five.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  I consider buying a drink, but it doesn’t look like there is any real ale on offer so I go outside and make do with a pounds worth of tea instead.  The area outside the club house is busy with people buying and scoffing chips, burgers and hot dogs and watching hordes of 3 to 9 year olds enjoying what is called Diddy’s and Mini’s football. Mums and Dads look on.

As I walk around to the main (only) stand the pitch is cleared of small children, presumably by some sort of Pied Piper figure.  With the sun already quite low in the sky, and shining on the browns and yellows of the autumn trees there is a beautiful golden glow to the afternoon , but a blustery wind is blowing from the north east and out of the sun it is cold.   The Millfield is at the edge of the town backing onto the slow moving, weed covered River Brett, the existence of which is hinted at by the presence of a bright orange life buoy propped against the fence.  From a distance I can see letters printed on the life belt and I speculate hopefully that they might read MV Marie Celeste or SS Titanic, but sadly they only read BDC, Babergh District Council.  At the other end of the ground open, rolling fields skirted with trees rise gently up away from the river in the direction of Layham.  As I arrive at the main stand Fat Boy Slim’s “Right Here Right Now” can be heard from the set of Aiwa speakers beneath the roof of the terrace opposite; it’s a sound that seems slightly incongruous in this rustic setting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I lounge on the second of three steps of cold, grey, wooden benches that run the length of the main stand.  The teams emerge from the tin clad building that houses the club house and dressing rooms but looks like a light industrial unit where a bloke in overalls will MOT your car; the players line up on the far side for the  ritual handshaking before dispersing for kick off.  Behind me one Gorleston supporter asks another how good his burger was; six out of ten is the verdict.  “Come On Greens!”, “Come on Gorleston!” shout the Gorleston supporters as the teams prepare for kick-off.  “How do you think we’ll do today?” asks one, expectantly.  “Who knows” replies the other, cautiously.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is Hadleigh United, known as the Brettsiders because of their location next to the river, who get first go with the ball, kicking in the direction of said river. Hadleigh wear an all navy blue kit, which would be fine if it didn’t also have white shoulders, giving the players the appearance of wearing small ermine capes, like some sort of House of Lords eleven.  Gorleston’s kit by contrast is all green and completely plain, although sadly it’s a rather nasty ‘plastic’ shade of green.  My advice to Gorleston when choosing a green kit would be to look at what the French clubs AS Saint-Etienne and Red Star FC are currently wearing in Ligue 1 Conforama and Domino’s Ligue2.

As referee Mr Quick wastes no time in blowing his whistle to begin the match, the bells OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof the mostly fifteenth century parish church of St Mary the Virgin (Grade 1 listed) ring out across the town to tell everyone that it is three o’clock.  Hadleigh might have had the first kick of the ball but it’s Gorleston who are having most kicks thereafter.  Gorleston’s eleven Dan Camish is having  a lot of fun scampering down the left wing and their number seven Connor Ingram has the first chance to score but heads over the cross bar.   Gorleston seem to have a plan to get the ball behind the full-back and then into the middle. Hadleigh however, seem un-certain what to do.  This perhaps explains why Gorleston have won their last three matches and are tenth in the league table, whilst Hadleigh languish, seventeenth in the twenty team division.  Hadleigh’s number ten Daniel Thrower stands out as their best player however, although their number two Charlie Howlett has made most effort with his hair;  his head has the look of an inverted Oreo with pale skin beneath a short back and sides and a bleached top sandwiching a band of natural brown colour.  The splendidly named Romario Dunne runs Howlett a not too close second with his hair tied back into  a small bun; a style which nevertheless suits his name and makes him look a bit like Stade Malherbe Caen’s Enzo Crivelli, or, less flatteringly perhaps, like one of the women in Grant Wood’s painting Daughters of Revolution.

It’s a reasonably entertaining game, even if neither team is having many shots on goal,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA but the fact that it’s a sunny afternoon probably helps and peels of bells from St Mary The Virgin delight the ears too, drifting in and out on the gusty breeze; the spire of the church is visible over the roof tops beyond the car park.   Suddenly there is a loud bang on the back of the stand as a stray ball from an impromptu Diddies and Minis kickabout strikes corrugated tin. It wakes the spectators in the stand from their reverie but not the Hadleigh team who just before half past three fall behind to a goal from Dan Camish who dashes past Howlett’s haircut into the penalty area and flicks the ball past the orange-clad figure of Nick Punter the Hadleigh goalkeeper.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The main stand is in the shade and feels damp and cold so I decide to alter my perspective on the game by moving behind the Hadleigh goal to bask in the autumn sun.  Five minutes later Gorleston score again; another break down the left by Camish and number nine, Ross Gilfedder slides in to prod the ball over the line a split second before Camish’s shot would have crossed the ball of its own free will.  As he picks himself up off the turf Gilfedder appears to glance guiltily towards Camish, hoping perhaps that he doesn’t realise he nicked ‘his goal’.  Perplexed Hadleigh players look at one another with arms outstretched and palms open, but seem to accept they are all at fault.

I move on again, this time to the side of the pitch so I haven’t got so far to go for my half-time tea.  I stand next to two men just in time to over hear the end of a funny story about a funeral.   From what I could make out the story teller went to the funeral of someone who he had been told had died, but it turned out that the funeral was for someone else with the same name and his acquaintance wasn’t dead at all.  The punch line was something like “Well if he dies again I int going to his funeral ‘cos the cunt never turned up to his first one”.  Amusing story over, the conversation switches to football and how the standard of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League First Division probably isn’t any better than the Touchline Suffolk and Ipswich League Senior Division.  Meanwhile, Gorleston win a free-kick near the half way line which is taken by their number five Dave ShadePeter Lamber who is a giant of a man.  Lambert boots the ball far over the goal and straight out for a goal kick. “Everything that bloke kicks goes out” says the man the other side of me from the man who went to the funeral. I tell him that I think the problem is he has been built to the wrong scale.

Half-time is almost here and my thoughts have turned to a polystyrene cup of hot tea, but I am going to have to wait. Gorleston’s Mitch Mckay runs onto a through ball and into the penalty area, as he controls the ball Nick Punter, which is an apt name for a goalkeeper, dives at his feet and McKay falls to the ground.  Mr Quick, doesn’t hesitate to award a penalty from which Connor Ingram creates the half-time score of 3-0, although not before Hadleigh captain Kris Rose rather angrily and threateningly berates the linesman Mr Pope.

Half-time sees the hordes of Diddies and Minis return to the pitch to take penalties OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAagainst a large dog in a blue checked hat and coat and a lion that is wearing a T-shirt and possibly a thong.  I give the lion the benefit of the doubt and don’t phone Social Services, preferring to warm my hands around a pounds worth of tea whilst I read the programme.

The first action of the second-half sees Hadleigh’s captain Kris Rose very unnecessarily and somewhat viciously scythe down Gorleston’s number ten Jordan Stanton, who is by no means the toughest looking member of the Gorleston team.  Rose struts and swaggers away from the scene of the crime advertising his lack of remorse. Pleasingly Mr Quick does not delay in making him the first player to be shown the yellow card.  It would seem that Rose has not yet got over his anger from the penalty at the end of the first half.   In the programme Rose’s own team mate Michael Barwick outs Rose as the team ‘hardman’,  but also the vainest player at the club.

The game carries on and the winners of a prize draw are announced. Ticket number 887 wins a meal for two at the Swan Inn at Lavenham.  Another prize involves what sounded like a body wash or scrub, perhaps both. Hadleigh meanwhile, are playing better than they did in the first half and deservedly win a penalty at about a quarter past four from which Dan Thrower scores.  Then a little later George Crowe hits a post with a shot and Thrower hits the bar.  “Come on Hadleigh, you’re all over them” shouts a man from the stand, not unreasonably. Gorleston are looking worried and a certain tension is evident amongst the players despite their two goal lead.  A Gorleston player goes down under a challenge from Charlie Howlett, who is immediately booked by Mr Quick. There is a hiatus as the player receives treatment or counselling and a small boy, probably a Diddy, asks me what happened.  I tell him the Gorleston player looks to have been accidentally smacked in the mouth. “Oh yeah, I’ve done that” says the small boy.  I don’t know if he means he’s smacked someone else in the mouth or if he’s been smacked, but I don’t get the opportunity to ask as he’s already run off.

Despite being a bright afternoon, there has always been a lot of cloud and now a few spots of rain have appeared on my coat; my fingers are growing increasingly numb and the shadows of the trees at the Layham end of the ground have reached the far end of the pitch.  It’s ten to five and Gorleston substitute Ryan Fuller plays in fellow substitute Joel Watts who takes the ball around the on rushing Punter before kicking the ball firmly into the net.

The goal confirms the result beyond all doubt and pushes Hadleigh into the relegation places in the league table. With the final whistle I head back to my Citroen across the practice pitch, dodging the few remaining Diddies and Minis who are knocking footballs about behind the main stand.  It’s been a decent afternoon’s entertainment even if Toppesfield Bridge and the bells of St Mary the Virgin will always possibly be the stars.

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