Newmarket Town 1 Thetford Town 1

The train journey from Ipswich to Newmarket (£10.50 return with a Goldcard) takes 58 minutes to cover a distance of about 65 kilometres.  That may seem a little slow, but the train does stop at Needham Market, Stowmarket, Elmswell, Thurston , Bury St Edmunds and Kennet before arriving in the town that is the centre of the British horse racing industry, home to about 21,000 people and 3,500 horses.

Despite a little mist it’s a bright February day beneath a cloudless blue sky, the unseasonal warmth has resulted in blossom appearing on some trees.   I am in good time for the 13.20 train to Cambridge which is already waiting on platform 4B; I board through the sliding doors. I immediately feel as though I have inadvertently stepped into someone’s dining room.  At the table to my right a family of four has their picnic lunch spread out before them; sandwiches and baking foil everywhere.  They look up at me as if to say “Don’t you knock before you enter a room?”, but they can’t say it because their mouths are full of sandwich; their jaws churning like tumble driers.  I pause to decide if I want to sit at the table opposite them; I don’t think I do, they’ve stared me out; I turn left.  There are plenty of empty seats and I find another vacant table.

Behind me I hear a sound like a vacuum cleaner; it is a vacuum cleaner and it is strapped to the back of a man in a blue tabard; he looks like a one man tribute to Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd (Ghostbusters).  I am impressed that the train is being cleaned between journeys; on his back above the vacuum cleaner it says “Presentation Team”, which sounds much nicer than plain old ‘cleaner’.

I sit and enjoy the architecture of the Victorian station platform briefly before the train departs, on time. Soon out of Ipswich the train speeds through the rolling Suffolk countryside of isolated farmhouses and medieval church towers.  A warm but slightly condescending female voice announces the station stops. The floodlights of Bloomfields the home of Needham Market FC can be seen if you know where to look and the track passes next to Stowmarket Town’s Green Meadow.   Munton’s of Stowmarket announce on a large sign that they are “passionate about malt”.  There are misty silhouettes of church and cathedral towers in Bury St Edmunds and a black cat crosses the Ipswich bound track; at Thurston there are chimneys like candy twists and at Kennet a metal silo that looks like a painting by Charles Sheeler.  The landscape changes towards Newmarket;  rows of pine trees and broader, flatter downland; the chalk beneath pokes through where the soil is tilled and forms white cliffs in railway cuttings.  Surprisingly, the final approach to Newmarket is through a long tunnel.

The train is still on-time as it arrives in Newmarket, this is as far west as it’s possible to go without not being in Suffolk anymore, but Newmarket station is a massive disappointment.  There is no sense of arrival here, it’s no more than a platform and a couple of metal bus shelters.  It is hard to believe that such a wealthy, internationally known town as Newmarket should have a railway station which is, to be blunt, so crap. Apparently the original Victorian station was demolished in 1981 despite being a listed building.

Putting the squalor of British public transport behind me I make the short walk down Green Road over The Avenue and up Granary Road where I turn right through a kissing gate and across the railway line into Cricket Field Lane, the home of Newmarket Town.  I am somewhat amazed that it is still possible to walk across the railway track as increasingly the population is treated like idiots incapable of working out how not to suffer grievous injury or death from stepping out in front of moving trains.  However, a poll conducted in 2016 did reveal that 52% of people who voted were stupid.

There is no queue to get into what I imagine Bloorie.com pay to have called the Bloorie.com Stadium.  Two men have squeezed themselves into the blue metal-clad turnstile booth; I ask for “one and a programme” and hold out a twenty pound note.  The smaller and older of the two men pauses, I wonder if perhaps he hasn’t got enough change, but no, he has; he eventually asks for £8 (£7 entrance +£1 programme); he was just adding up.  His mind had “gone blank for a moment” he tells me. As the smaller man hands me my change the larger man invites me to buy two strips of tickets for the club 50/50 draw, which he explains will see half the money collected becoming prize money and the other half going to the club.  I tell him I understand and buy two strips (£2); there didn’t seem to be an option to buy just one.  My investment will come to nothing; I’ll have to write it off as a charitable contribution.

Inside the ‘stadium’ I head for the tea bar where I purchase a bacon roll (£2.50) and a cup of tea (£1.00).  As I wait for my bacon roll I watch the teams and referees warm up on the sun-lit synthetic pitch, which looks extremely neat even if it is accompanied by a rash of prohibiting signage; this is its first season.  My bacon roll is ready and I sit in the stand to eat it and to avoid having to juggle a paper plate, napkin, bacon roll and cup of tea.  The bacon is crispy.  Bland, forgettable, 21st century pop music plays over the public address system.  Today, Newmarket Town who are ninth in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier league with thirty-seven points from twenty six games played face Thetford Town who are fifteenth with eight fewer points from the same number of matches played.

In time everyone disappears back inside the dressing rooms only to re-emerge as the three o’clock kick-off approaches.  The referee’s assistants are first to appear, posing in the doorway, before the away team and then the Newmarket team each form a queue and at the referee’s signal march onto the pitch to line up in front of the main stand as if for inspection and to greet one another with multiple handshakes.  Meanwhile, a short man in a blue cap uses a radio mike to introduce the match and announce the teams, and in a possible homage to John Motson he adds all sorts of extraneous detail, such as the fact that Newmarket’s Jacob Partridge is expecting his first child later this year; he’s not showing.

Thetford Town begin the game kicking towards the miserable little railway station whilst Newmarket Town play in the direction of a row of pollarded trees and the Gallops which are visible far off in the distance. 

Thetford wear all claret with odd looking sky blue rings round their shoulders, whilst Newmarket sport yellow shirts with blue shorts and blue and yellow hooped socks. I particularly like Newmarket’s socks and it is no wonder that there is an advertisement for a supplier of sock tape on the fence at the side if the pitch.  Electrical tape is good enough for most, but hooped socks deserve something special.

The game begins with the ball being played back to Thetford’s number five Jonathan Carver who hoofs it forward unceremoniously. The Newmarket goalkeeper Will Viner boots it back and it’s Carver who heads it back again, fifteen love.  The most difficult thing in football sometimes is knowing what to do with the ball from the kick-off.  Happily the game settles down into a more entertaining series of passes and moves.  Newmarket are the first to ‘get the ball down’ but soon Thetford get the idea too; it would be a shame not to make use of the flat, true surface of the synthetic pitch over which the ball almost seems to whisper as it rolls.  Newmarket earn the game’s first corner but Thetford claim the first booking as Newmarket’s Jack Whiting is clattered to the floor.  “Ref, he’s fucking injured” cries Newmarket’s goalkeeper Alex Archer helpfully as the game at first carries on.  When referee Mr Brian O’Sullivan (not a relative of deceased racing commentator Peter O’Sullevan) awards a free-kick to Thetford’s number nine Volter Rocha, Archer who is very ‘gobby’ for a man dressed from head to toe in salmon pink calls out “ He fuckin’ slipped” . 

At the other end the more soberly dressed (all grey) Thetford ‘keeper is equally vocal but restricts his advice to his own team.  “Win it, win it” he shouts and “Left shoulder Steedy;  Elliott, left shoulder” .  Meanwhile from the touchline the advice is a more positive sounding “In the hole”.  Just before twenty past three Thetford hit a post and five minutes later the impressive Volter Rocha hits a shot onto the cross-bar and the equally impressive number two Sam Bond heads in the re-bound to give Thetford the lead to cheers from the main stand.

In front of me a group of lads watch keenly. “Go on boy wonder” says one as Newmarket’s Jack Whiting pushes forward. “ That number nine rolled his ankle” says another “ Well he looks okay” is the reply.  “Yeah, but he has rolled his ankle”.  Half-time is approaching and the bespectacled linesman whose glasses make him look a little like Kevin Costner’s character in the film JFK stifles a yawn.

With the referee’s whistle I head for the bar.  I check on the half-time scores; Ipswich are winning away from home; excellent!  I order a half of Lacon’s Pale Ale (£1.70) to cautiously celebrate a job half done.  The beer is much too cold and fizzy but it has that fashionable, light, hoppy flavour. Once the rush has died down I ask the barman what has happened at Newmarket that the place now looks so much better than it did when I was last here, probably in 2014 or 2015.  Back then it looked like the National Trust might want to preserve it as an example of a slightly shabby Step Five football ground from the 1980’s.  He tells me that they sold the land behind the clubhouse for housing, which funded the synthetic pitch which is now hired out every night; this week Cambridge United have used it every day for their soccer school.  Meanwhile the club’s guests and visiting officials enjoy plates of sandwiches and fancy-cakes in a room to the side of the bar.  I look at the programme, a  glossy publication full of adverts, but with potted club histories, league tables, results and fixtures too, so a useful programme all the same; and it’s good to see which local companies help support the club.  I very much like that Tattersalls advertise their sales calendar and wonder how many of the crowd here today will be looking to buy a filly or may be a two year old at the next sale.

The second half begins promptly at four o’clock, which is good because I don’t want to miss my train at eight minutes past five.  “Come on Jockeys” shouts a large man from close to the smoking area “Come on Jocks” echoes another man.  The first action of the half sees the Newmarket goalkeeper slice the ball high over the clubhouse and out of the ground. “There goes another thirty quid” says someone.  I wander round to watch from between the dugouts. 

The two Newmarket coaches kitted out in matching blue tracksuits stand conspiratorially together.  “Come and fuckin’ get it” shouts one of them at the ‘keeper after Thetford put in a cross. “ He was behind him” shouts the ‘keeper in his own defence. “Fuck off” replies the coach.

Thetford look like they might score again and their good play belies their relatively low position in the league table; perhaps they need to play on a synthetic surface every week.  The afternoon wears on and the sun sinks lower in the sky casting long shadows of the trees behind the Thetford goal down the length of the pitch.  Spectators enjoying the warmth of the sunshine have to shield their eyes, but it’s very cool in the shade.  Substitutions are made and the man in the blue cap announces them as best he can.  “Number 17 is coming on” he tells us “… but I haven’t got a number seventeen on my teamsheet”.  Whoever number 17 is he’s got a powerful shot and he soon elicits a spectacular save from Newmarket’s Archer who because of his pink kit really does ‘leap like a salmon’.

Up in the stand Thetford supporters are encouraging their team. “On your bike ‘arry, skin ‘im son” is the advice to the alliteratively named number eleven Harry Hutt.  But Thetford fail to score again and as the game enters its last ten minutes Newmarket begin to keep the ball a bit more to themselves.   At five thirty-six an angled free-kick into the Thetford penalty area is met with a deft, flicked header from substitute and player manager, Michael Shinn.  The ball enters the top left hand corner of the goal as great goals often do.  Shinn may have one of fuller figures on the pitch today but his is a fine goal and Shinn is a fine name for a footballer, although not quite as good as that of the Newmarket number two Blake Kicks, whose surname is worthy of the Happy Families card game; up alongside Mr Bun the baker, Mr Bones the butcher and Mr Pots the painter, meet Mr Kicks the footballer.

Thetford make a final substitution, but don’t hold up the numbers to show who it is and the man in the blue cap announces “Looks like we’ve given up on the boards, so I haven’t a clue who’s come on”.  A little while later as the final whistle blows and the man in the blue cap goes to remind us all of the final score, his microphone stops working .  The final score is one-all, perhaps my least favourite score line, especially when the opposition equalises in injury time as I learn Wigan Athletic have done in their game against Ipswich.

With the sun now setting behind me I head back towards the turnstile and Cricket Field Road and reflect on what has been an entertaining match.  I like the synthetic pitch and that it doesn’t smell weirdly of rubber like others I’ve seen, in fact I don’t think it smelt at all.  This has to be the way forward for clubs like Newmarket Town, along with hooped socks.  Upwards and onwards, as I said to the barman.

Brantham Athletic 0 Stowmarket Town 0

It’s a dull late January day; layer upon layer of slate grey cloud block out the sun, darkening the soft , deep browns of the claggy fields and casting the naked, leafless trees as black silhouettes. I catch the train to Manningtree from where it is just over a kilometre’s walk to the Brantham Leisure Centre, home of Brantham Athletic; the Blue Imps. At Manningtree Station the platform sign says “Manningtree for Dedham Vale”, but it doesn’t mention Brantham Athletic. Today Brantham Athletic, eighth in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division play Stowmarket Town, third in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division. The train is on time; a man walks by as I wait on the platform and opens a bag of crisps, a waft of artificial roast beef flavour assaults my nostrils in his wake. On the train I sit by a window, a ticket above the headrest states that the seat is reserved from Liverpool Street to Ipswich, but it’s vacant; what has happened to the person who reserved this seat? Did they miss the train? Are they getting pissed in the buffet car? The guard makes an announcement; the PA system is faulty and it sounds as if he is just talking loudly from the next carriage. The announcement does not solve the mystery.

a dull grey january day

Even on a dull January day it’s not a wholly unpleasant walk along the A137 from Manningtree station (which is actually in Lawford) over the River Stour and the marshes and meadows either side. The traffic is nasty but the scenery’s not. I take my life in my hands as I walk beneath the bridge below the railway line where there is no footway just a continuous white line to separate the would-be pedestrian from the traffic, but I survive to tell the tale. At the river, a gang of cormorants are hanging about on the mud. Over the river I am safely into Suffolk and I pass two blokes with powerful looking cameras; twitchers probably; Cattawade marshes is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). I cross the old road bridge at Cattawade before walking along Factory Lane past the derelict, mostly demolished premises of ICI and then turn left up towards the Brantham leisure centre. The shingle covered car park is already pretty full and it’s only twenty minutes past two. A sign that says “Kitchen in the clubhouse” strikes me as a little odd, I wouldn’t have expected to find it in the car park. There is no turnstile, just a man in a wooden shed. I pay my entry fee (£7) and buy a programme (£1), the man in the shed meticulously crosses off two more squares on the sheet in front of him. Even now there’s a short queue to get in, they’re all from Stowmarket. I enter the club house, a flat roofed building in the style of the 1950’s or early 1960’s with plenty of windows with UPVC frames. I look towards the bar but the one hand pump has the clip turned away from public gaze, indicating that there’s no real beer here today. I should have stopped for one at the Manningtree Station Buffet instead of just looking at the art in the tunnel beneath the tracks. I buy a bacon roll (£2.50), a young woman takes my money, cooks the bacon and then serves me the roll. “Well done Lill” I hear an older woman say from within the kitchen.

I take my bacon roll outside because the smell of hot cooking oil from the kitchen is a bit unpleasant and with my thick wool jumper and coat I’m feeling rather warm, hot even. I stand on the neatly manicured grass in front of the clubhouse; the teams are warming up on the adjacent cricket pitch which makes Brantham’s a slightly unsatisfactory ‘three-sided’ football ground. More and more Stowmarket Town supporters arrive, identifiable by their black and old gold knitwear. I head for the main stand, a beautifully modest, home-made looking structure of wooden benches smoothed by Suffolk buttocks, and white painted stanchions behind a brick wall, with the words Brantham Athletic Football Club painted along the front of the lean-to roof. If sitting on the back row it’s necessary to be careful standing up so as not to bang your head; I may be 1.87m tall, but I love a low roof. “Martin” calls a voice from the back of the stand; it’s Alistair, a disillusioned Wivenhoe Town supporter. Al takes in a local match most weekends with his young daughter; she’s a real football enthusiast and she’s only about six. We talk as the teams walk onto the pitch at the club house end of the ground before lining up to shake hands and say “How are ya?”. At last the game is ready to begin and I leave Al and his daughter in the stand, partly to promote my self-image as ‘a bit of a loner’, but mostly because it’s hard to see one of the goals over the top of the somewhat outsized metal-framed ‘dug-out’, which looks like the sort of structure you might park your bike in.

Stowmarket Town get first go with the ball, their favoured direction of kicking for this first half being towards the River Stour, the marshes and the main London to Ipswich rail line, with the clubhouse behind them. Stow’ wear an unnecessary away kit of all red, but it contrasts well with Brantham’s all blue strip and together on the bright, soft green turf they form a brilliant scene beneath the grey clouds. This may be Constable Country, but it’s all gone a bit Fauvist down here at the Leisure Centre.

Stowmarket are quickly on the attack and winning a corner. “Be strong” says their coach and I almost expect him to burst into song. Behind the Brantham goal a line of Stowmarket supporters hang over the rail. “Lip-up Fatty” they call to the chunky Brantham number four, appropriately channelling the song by ‘Bad Manners’. The number four then inexpertly slices a hoofed clearance off the pitch and looks down at the pitch as if to blame a worm cast or dissident blade of grass for his mis-kick. I decide that Stow’s number 2 and captain looks like a smaller version of Marseille’s Luis Gustavo.

“Oh Stowmarket is wonderful, oh Stowmarket is wonderful” the Stow’ fans then chant, to the tune of “When The Saints Go Marching In”, going on to qualify this by describing how it is full of the body parts that only women have, as well as Stowmarket Town Football Club. It’s not something Stowmarket town council advertise on their website. Stowmarket continue to dominate possession, but Brantham are their equals. At about twenty past three referee Mr Robertson-Tant, who has a high forehead and deep set eyes, a bit like Herman Munster, airs his yellow card for the first time, booking Stow’s number ten for barging the Brantham goalkeeper. Coincidentally and fascinatingly, one of the linesmen has a pronounced widow’s peak, not unlike Eddie Munster, Herman’s only son.

This is a close game, which is a good explanation for its lack of goals although just before half past three Stow’s number seven does turn smartly as a prelude to hitting a shot against the Brantham cross-bar. With half-time approaching I stand behind the Stowmarket goal in order to be closer to the clubhouse and the tea within. I catch the last exchange of a conversation between two blokes in their twenties or early thirties about an unidentified player. “Yeah, he’s shit, well he’s not shit, but…he’s shit, int he.” This is the sort of incisive player critique that the likes of Mark Lawrenson or Garth Crooks can never hope to provide.
Half-time arrives, the floodlights flicker in to life and I seek the warmth of the clubhouse; my right hand is burning with cold because I seem to have dropped my right glove on the way the railway station; later, on my walk home I will find it on the pavement where it fell. I join the queue for a pounds worth of tea in a polystyrene cup; the man behind me in the queue orders coffee and cheesie-chips; I don’t know why but I find cheesie-chips amusing. Despite the deepening cold I return outside; it’s too warm and noisy in the clubhouse and I’m more suitably dressed for the outdoors. In the window of the clubhouse I look at the team sheet; oddly only the players’ surname and initials are given, which seems unnecessarily formal. I take a look at the programme, there’s not much in it but I like its amateurish layout and the reference to Emiliano Sala in the Chairman’s report. I saw Sala play for Nantes against Lille a couple of years ago and have watched him numerous times on TV, I liked him a lot.
For the start of the second half I watch from the metal, prefabricated stand situated in one corner at the clubhouse end of the ground; apparently the seats were brought from Colchester United’s sadly missed old Layer Road ground. I don’t sit here long because the man behind me talks with a loud, piercing voice which hurts my ears. I return to the side of the ground by the dug outs. Stow’s number four, M Paine becomes the second player to be booked by Mr Robertson-Tant, I’m not sure why.
Stow’ continue to have the ball more of the time than Brantham. but look no more likely to score. “Stop fuckin’ dropping” shouts the Brantham manager to a defender as the game enters its last quarter and nervousness and angst begin to surface. At about half-past four Mr Robertson-Tant books G Clarke of Brantham, firstly raising his arm and flexing his wrist to point to three or four approximate locations around the pitch where Clarke had recently committed other misdemeanours; I like it when referees do that. Persistent fouling is my favourite offence for this very reason. Meanwhile the Stowmarket ‘ultras’ continue through their repertoire, rather repetitively re-living Depeche Mode’s “I just can’t get enough”. It’s almost twenty five to five and Stowmarket almost score as R Garrett receives a ball on the left, surges forward, goes wide of the challenge of the Brantham goal keeper L Avenell, but hits his shot against the base of the goal post from an acute angle.
With the game in its closing minutes I enjoy the glare of the floodlights and the deep blue darkness of the evening sky as much as the increasing anxiety of both teams’ coaches. “Watch that line, watch that line” says one of the Stowmarket coaches to the substitute J Mayhew as if he just can’t be trusted not to stray offside. He then says “Watch that line” just once more, for luck perhaps. “Brandy!” shouts the other bobble-hatted Stow’ coach to his goalkeeper C Brand, although it’s a name more suited to a porn actress, “…put a fuckin’ angle on it”, before saying “Shut it” to a Brantham supporter who passes comment. “Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze!” bawls the Brantham coach preferring cliché to coarseness. The final words before I move towards the exit go to the bobble-hatted Stow’ coach, “Fuck’s sake” he says.
The game ends goalless. It’s been a frustrating match, more for Stowmarket than for Brantham perhaps, but that may be just because of the weight of the combined hopes of their greater number of supporters. As I walk away across the cricket pitch towards the river the teams warm down and the Stow’ supporters wait to applaud their team from the field. I reflect upon whether watching local non-league football isn’t just the perfect way to spend a winter’s afternoon and return to the railway station, smug in the knowledge that I’ve also kept a car off the road today and helped to save the planet.

Framlingham Town 2 Norwich United 0

On a Saturday afternoon the number 118 bus leaves Ipswich at a quarter to two and arrives outside the former White Horse pub in Framlingham about forty-five minutes later, from where according to Google maps it is a thirteen minute walk up Bridge Street and Market Hill, along Church Street, Castle Street and up Badingham Road to the Badingham Road Sports ground, home of Framlingham Town Football Club. The only problem with this if wanting to watch a football match is that it is necessary to leave at half-time to catch the last bus back to Ipswich at a quarter past four. There are two later buses out of Framlingham, but they will only get you as far as Framsden. With passenger rail services to Fram’ having ceased in 1952, and deciding that unless sleeping in a hedge, stopping over for the weekend in Framsden or Framlingham (the next bus to Ipswich is on Monday morning) is a tad extravagant just to watch a Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League game, I have no option today but to get a bigger shoe for my carbon footprint and travel by car.
Even for someone wracked with guilt over his Citroen C3’s carbon emissions, having turned off the A12 it’s a pleasant drive along the B1116, which follows the valley of the River Ore through Hacheston and Parham. Tilled brown fields, grey flints, golden leaves and gaunt trees beneath a broad, bright sky set the scene for our winding, undulating journey. It’s all a bit ‘Akenfield’ out here. In Framlingham I park up near the 12th century castle and we, for today I am with my wife Paulene, pop to the Co-op for a small picnic; we would eat at the football club, but Paulene’s food intolerances won’t allow it. We stop off at the church of St Michael on the way back to the car to look at the display of knitted poppies draped over the south porch for Remembrance day tomorrow and take a look inside at the tombs of the ancient Howard family, feudal lords of the area after Sir Roger; appropriately the local Conservative Club is just over the road too.44933944875_965acaf762_z
It’s a very short drive from Sir Roger Bigod’s castle to Framlingham Sports Club on Badingham Road; like Stowmarket Town , Walsham le Willows and Brantham Athletic, Framlingham Town Football Club is now a part of the local sports club. Back in the 12th century Sir Roger was probably more of a hunting man than a footballer though. The roughly surfaced car park is pretty full, but we find a space and head into the club house for a drink, where we encounter what appears to be a ladies’ sports team all sat down in green trackie-tops having their dinner, and the shutters on the bar are down. Making an about turn we head around the corner to the turnstile entrance to the football ground , a nicely painted and brightly lit walk-through shed. Inside the shed a jolly man with a proper Suffolk accent relieves me of the admission fee (£8 each), which by at least a pound is the most I have ever paid to see an Eastern Counties League game and therefore seems a bit steep; I don’t think I paid more than a fiver when I last came to a match here about eighteen months ago. Financially bruised as I am, it doesn’t deter me however from splashing out on a programme (£1) too. On some days money means nothing to me. The man in the shed tells us that we can get beer or wine at the tea bar now, so the bar only opens later, I then have to remind him that I’ve paid for a programme too and he hands one over.
We walk the few yards to the main stand, briefly stopping to exchange pleasantries with a contented looking lady sat on a chair, basking in the low autumn sun. She always sits here she tells us. The tea bar is in the middle of the small brick stand at the back of the three rows of neat green seats. We both have a tea (£1), I have milk, Paulene doesn’t due to dairy intolerance; coincidentally she’s a bit scared of cows too. Paulene selects a seat in the corner of the stand; it will no doubt get colder later and this looks like a spot that will offer the closest approximation to ‘cosy’ once the sun has gone down. We drink our tea and eat our picnic, which mostly consists of Suffolk ham and crisps; we watch the officials warm up, which is always entertaining. Today’s threesome look refreshinglyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA young and unusually trendy; one has a beard, one sports what may be designer stubble whilst the third has one of those tied-up, top-knot haircuts with two partings. I always thought the Football Association had their own barbers who tried to make all referees look like Action Man, but it seems not. They’ll have to keep an eye on the fella with the top-knot; seems a bit of a individualist.
It’s still only about half past two, so like the spend thrift that I am I return to the tea bar for a bottle of Adnam’s Ghostship (£3) to wash down the salty picnic. The lady who serves me pours the beer expertly whilst explaining how it tends to froth up in plastic glasses. I tell her I think she deserves some sort of drum roll as she pours, but hold back with a round of applause when it’s done. Beer in hand I take a stroll round the pitch and wait for the teams to emerge from the dressing room behind the stand. Eventually, to the strains of Nancy Sinatra’s “These boots were made for walking”, an unusual but impressive choice, the teams walk on to the pitch led by the referee Mr Jack Willmore and his assistants Jack Lock and the somewhat theatrical sounding Ayrton Hursey; if I had to make a guess I’d say Ayrton is the one with ‘the hair’.
The ritual handshaking occurs and the teams chase off to their respective halves of the pitch. The Framlingham players then line the centre circle and because it is Remembrance Day tomorrow the Last Post is played over the PA system, but no one seems to have told Norwich United and they ‘knock up’ as usual, as footballers do. Sadly it’s a bit shambolic and had it been filmed would surely make the cut for a possible Channel 5 documentary series entitled “When poignant ceremonies goes wrong”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the Last Post over, it’s time for the minute’s silence, which happily is well observed by everyone and I suspect we all feel much better for it. For future reference, the Last Post should probably follow the silence.
It’s Norwich United, nickname The Planters, who kick-off the match in the direction of Rendham wearing a change kit of red shirts with white sleeves, red shorts and socks whilst Fram’, known informally as ‘The Castlemen’ wear green and white hooped shirts with white shorts and socks. Fram’ play in the direction of the town and the castle, of which one of the decorated Tudor chimneys is just visible from the Rendham end of the ground. The game begins quietly with Fram’ playing neatly and Norwich occasionally bursting forward, but neither side is very effective close to the opposition goal with the important forward passes often being over-hit or too easily intercepted; but it’s nice enough to watch all the same.
The sun sinks ever lower through a wreath of cloud as the half progresses and with the main stand and facilities on the north side of the pitch, most of the sixty-three strong crowd spend a lot of time squinting and holding their hands up to their foreheads as if looking out to sea. Spectators stood by the pitch-side rail cast long shadows behind them on to the metal boundary fence. I stand for a while by the team dugouts on the shaded side of the pitch where it feels rather cold and damp. Behind me is what looks like a small, dilapidated cricket pavilion and rather bizarrely, next to that is what appears to be a boarded up Council house.

The game is being played in a good spirit and although the players whinge and whine about perceived unpunished fouls and faux free-kicks there seems to be a realisation that it’s only a game; a fact that quiet reflection during the minute’s silence should have confirmed beyond all doubt. When Mr Willmore doesn’t give handball as the ball strikes the upper arm of Norwich’s full-back Adam Probert, Fram’s number seven Simon Poacher grasps his head with both hands in over-affected disbelief. Probert laughs, although it’s not clear if he’s laughing at having got away with a handball or at Poacher’s ham-handed histrionics. There are corners and crosses and misses of a sort, but it takes until the fortieth minute for either team to have a really decent looking attempt on goal when Fram’s Max Willet lands a long range shot on the roof of the Norwich goal just as the floodlights come on; a moment of double illumination. When Fram’s number five Anthony Johnson then unnecessarily concedes a corner his goalkeeper Gary Rose can be heard to say frustratedly “I told him to leave it, I told him”. But the corner comes to nothing, so no harm done.
Half-time and the seeping chill of the late autumn afternoon demands another pound’s worth of tea from the tea-bar. The result of the 50-50 draw is announced and it is revealed that the winner is the club chairman. “Money goes to money” says a man next to me in the queue at the tea bar. But the chairman seems down to earth enough, he’s stood in the tea bar and he’s not dressed up in a suit like the Norwich contingent. Teas purchased, Paulene and I huddle in the corner of the stand, the side screen of which, somewhat peculiarly, is double-glazed, which seems a little unnecessary given that it is a necessary feature of all stands that one side is left completely open. I have a flick through the programme. It’s a colourful and glossy little publication, short of text but sporting the best advert I have seen in a programme for some time – “AFS for Your Fumigation Requirements” it reads; I will be sure to give them a call for my next pre-harvest grainstore treatments. There is also an advert for agricultural trailers and, more prosaically, for Framlingham Pizza and Grill, which shows a colourful array of pizzas and fast foods against a back drop of the castle, as if the two are somehow intrinsically linked. Genuinely, I never cease to be impressed by the support of local businesses for their local team, even if they do make me laugh a bit too; all power to their advertising elbows.
At three fifty-six Mr Willmore blows his whistle to begin the second half. Within a short space of time Fram’s number nine Danny Smith runs down the right, crosses the ball and it strikes the arm or hand of the Norwich number six and captain Andy Eastaugh. Mr Willmore awards a penalty. There is a bit of a delay as we wait for the inevitable arguments from the Norwich players to subside. A seasoned Suffolk voice to my left says “If I was the ref that ruddy goalkeeper woulda gone by now”. When the penalty is finally taken, Simon Poacher scores; a rustic cheer erupts from the main stand to which I add my voice. I can’t remain impartial when it’s Suffolk versus a Norwich team, although in truth Norwich United aren’t from Norwich at all, but from Blofield five miles away, as is Poringland where the club began in 1903 as Poringland and District, a name which sounds more like a bus company than a football club.
The game needed a goal and given the first half display a penalty seemed the only way it was likely to happen. Fram’ hadn’t really pushed enough players forward in the first half, but now they are looking strong down the right wing where number eleven Max Willet is getting plenty of the ball; he puts in a couple of crosses but there is no one to get on the end of them. Fram’s number ten comes close however as he twist and turns and shoots forcing the purple clad Norwich goalkeeper Luke Pearson to make the first proper save of the match as he tips the ball over the cross-bar.
Play goes on and darkness descends and I inexplicably notice how many of the players have severe haircuts and resemble those of army conscripts from World War One. TheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Norwich number four Sam Applegate would seem to have a particularly vicious barber who has given Sam a haircut which makes him look as if he is wearing a skull cap. Fram’s number six James Mayhew becomes the first player to be booked by Mr Willmore. The excitement increases as Fram’ look for a second goal, but also look to hang on to their lead. “Go on Fram’”, “Go on, close ‘em down” “Come on Fram’, play football” are the calls of advice from the main stand.
Norwich have an attack and win a corner. “When was the last time we scored from a corner?” says a Norfolk accent. There’s a slight pause before the terse reply “Last week wasn’t it?” From the corner a Norwich header hits the Fram’ goalkeeper or someone on the goal line provoking predictable calls of handball, but nobody seems very convinced, least of all Mr Willmore.
45815355781_1b8fc59db8_oAt just before twenty five past four Max Willets chases off down the right for Fram’ once again. He gets into the penalty area, checks, changes pace and gains half a yard on the full-back before crossing the ball and Jake Seaber, whose name doesn’t even appear in the programme, scores a simple tap-in at the far post. The cheer for the second goal is even bigger than for the first and I once again join in; witnessing a Suffolk team called Town score a second goal against a team from Norwich is something I’ve not done in quite a while. Up the Towun!
I wander off around the other side of the ground again to enjoy the final quarter of the game. Under the floodlights the colours of the two teams comes alive and so does the match, but not in a good way. Norwich have applied some pressure without success, but have also had to defend and evidently not to the standard their goalkeeper Luke Pearson expects and he suddenly throws a tantrum, stomping stiff-legged from his goal and bawling incomprehensibly. A short while later there is a fracas near the centre of the pitch, I have no clue what has happened but Fram’s Simon Poacher staggers from a melee looking like he’s been punched in the stomach. A Norwich player is booked and the Fram’ coaches tell the linesman he knows what he saw; something to do with Norwich number five Sam Watts throwing a punch. Mr Willmore consults his assistant with the haircut and Watts is shown the red card; after a short argument he accepts his fate and returns to the dressing room. There’s not long left now, especially as the referee seems keen to finish the game as quickly as he can and within a few minutes as Fram’ goalkeeper launches a kick Mr Willmore calls time.
The crowd of mostly middle-aged and older men are appreciative of what they’ve seen this afternoon. Although Fram’ remain second from bottom in the twenty team Eastern Counties Premier League they’ve beaten a team who were ten places above them and only last season were two divisions above them. For my part it’s been a fun afternoon of goals, beer, medieval architecture and a sending off, I couldn’t ask for more.

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Woodbridge Town 2 Clapton 2

Today is the day of my favourite round of the FA Cup. Whilst supporters of professional clubs may enjoy the third round when the ‘big’ clubs deign to take part, or the first round when the not quite so big clubs join in, I love the very first day. For a start, it is still summer and the days remain long and warm, but what I love about it more is not that any particular clubs take part, or even that it is the beginning, what I like is its name, the extra-preliminary round. Before the first round there are four qualifying rounds; before the first one of those there is a preliminary round, but the FA clearly don’t think that goes far enough and rather than have six qualifying rounds, they decide to have both a preliminary round and an extra-preliminary round. This seems to me to embody the FA’s attitude to grass roots football clubs as a bit of a nuisance that must be culled before the competition can begin properly. This is the FA ‘putting it’ to these little clubs that they are nothing. It’s no wonder that only 800 odd clubs enter the FA Cup, the FA would never cope with what happens in France where over 7,000 clubs enter their equivalent competition, the Coupe de France, but then, France is a republic.
Today I am travelling to Woodbridge by train (£3.15 return from Ipswich with a Goldcard) to watch Woodbridge Town, newly promoted to the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League, play Clapton of the Essex Senior league, a club with a distinguished history and where the fabled Walter Tull began his football career. On the first part of my journey to Ipswich I sit next to two women discussing a man called Amos and what he does when he is in Uganda. When I change trains I sit at a table where a girl in red socks and white T-shirt is quick to tell me that she is innocent of having made the neat arrangement of two empty Lucozade bottles and three crisp packets that sit on the table. I tell her it’s okay, I will avert my gaze and look out of the window. British Transport police are looking for an obese person with OCD who is recovering from illness. Two West Bromwich Albion supporters on their way to Norwich sit across the gangway from me, we chat a little and I wish them luck, telling them that I am expecting at least four or five goals from their team; pleasingly they will oblige. I also recoil from the hideous sight of a tall, well-spoken young man in a Norwich City shirt; he has ‘Cooper’ ‘21’ on his shirt back; his name and IQ I surmise, or possibly the number of members of his family with whom he has had a sexual relationship.
The three carriage 13:18 to Lowestoft leaves Ipswich on time and slowly roars its way through marshalling yards and past Hadleigh Road industrial estate with its mighty disused gas holder that sits in a nest of buddleia. Beyond the River Gipping the view of Ipswich from the bridges over Bramford Lane and Norwich Road is a joy with its cluster of modernist blocks and the floodlights of Portman Road looming up beyond low streets of red roofs, which haven’t changed much in eighty years, in many cases much longer. This is a lovely train journey, albeit a noisy one thanks to the diesel engine and old-fashioned clickety-clack of the rails. The train arrives at 13:32 and Woodbridge seems busy; a group of women, all teetering heels, tanned legs, tight dresses, make-up, flowers and fascinators await a taxi; on their way to a wedding, I hope. Woodbridge station is a homely looking building, but I waste no time in setting off up the hill towards Notcutt’s Park, which is a good twenty-minute walk away.


Woodbridge is clearly a well-heeled town, there are large houses, some with naked statuary in the garden and the lamp posts are adorned with somewhat twee hanging baskets, overflowing with summer flowers. I pass by the Cherry Tree pub but do just that, pass by, it looks busy and full of Saturday lunchtime diners. Further up the hill is the local Ford motor dealership where in 1970 my father traded in his maroon 1962 Ford Cortina 1200 for an almost new (ex-demonstrator), beige Ford Cortina 1600 Super, which he always maintained was the best car he ever owned.

Further on, the path leaves the roadside, ascending an embankment and becoming a leafy bower43072886655_a4cf6c222d_o before emerging again into the full light by the Duke of York ‘country’ pub, which is really a ‘family diner’ masquerading as a pub and part of the Vintage Inns chain whose “…rustic buildings offer a country style dining experience…” .

I have been walking for almost fifteen minutes and fearful that the Woodbridge Town clubhouse might only serve insipid Greene King IPA I call in for a pint of Adnams Southwold Bitter (£3.90). At the bar a youngish man orders food. “The menu says you have those kofte things” he says. “Yes” says the bar maid. “I’ll er, have some of them, er please” says the man, showing what sophisticated diners the English have become thanks to the country style dining experience and its ilk.
Refreshed by Adnams Southwold Bitter I press on with the final short leg of my walk to the match through a modern estate of red brick houses, which all look like they are43072882865_26c0797c46_o trying to be nineteenth century Suffolk farmhouses; I imagine their occupants having Ploughman’s lunches for every meal. At the end of a winding road of executive homes is Woodbridge Town Football Club. I follow a man with a carrier bag of empty bottles which he tips into the recycling bin outside before proceeding through the turnstile.

I pay my entry fee (£6.00) receiving a yellow and white ticket in exchange and purchase a programme (£1.00), which annoyingly I will later lose in mysterious circumstances (did it fall from my pocket, or did I leave it in the bar?), it was a glossy publication which I rather liked. After a cursory look across the pitch, where players of both teams are limbering up, I enter the bar and a youth wearing a thick grey anorak as if he’s in in 1990’s indie band serves me with a pint of Adnams Ghostship (£3.50). I feel foolish for worrying about Greene King IPA now and my faith in football club bars is restored, for now. The barman doesn’t look old enough to serve alcohol, but he later takes the anorak off revealing tattoos suggesting he is indeed over eighteen. But maybe he serially lies about his age, has been driving since he was thirteen and had this been a century ago he would already have spent a couple of years in the trenches of northern France. I sink the Ghostship and wander outside into the sun where the crowd is gathering. There are just two stands at Notcutt’s Park, one a covered, shallow metal terrace and the other, which is directly next to it, a brick structure with half a dozen rows of bench seats; I pick a spot in the seated stand and read my programme, which I have not yet lost. After a short while I am surprised to look up and see the two teams and the officials all lined up on the pitch, shaking hands like Baptists on a Sunday morning.
The game begins with Clapton in all blue with yellow socks and sleeves kicking off in the direction of whatever lies northeast of Woodbridge; Ufford probably. Woodbridge Town wear black and white stripes with black shorts and socks, hence their nickname ‘The Woodpeckers’, not that woodpeckers wear football kits and of course not all woodpeckers are black and white; a fact highlighted by the most laudable poster above20180811_144447_42172634410_o the urinals in the toilet urging spectators to buy a re-usable drinks cup and become a ‘green’ woodpecker. All clubs should be doing something OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsimilar.

 

 

Woodbridge play towards the junction with the A12, Martlesham and the tower of BT’s research laboratories which is visible in the distance.

 

The first foul of the game, after just a few seconds, draws a shout from the crowd “That’s about time ref”. Woodbridge look much the better of the two teams in the opening minutes; perhaps they should with former Ipswich Town and Sunderland player Carlos Edwards in their team; they pass the ball whilst Clapton just run about after them. But Woodbridge don’t create any chances to score and when it looks like they might, a Clapton player always manages to be in the way. Woodbridge have the first proper shot of the game, which flies over the Clapton cross bar in the seventh minute. Woodbridge are playing well, but then again they’re not; and Clapton are struggling, but then in a way they’re not because their goalkeeper has not had a save to make. Some of the crowd amuse themselves with shouts and cat calls. “VAR. That was a penalty!” is heard as a Woodbridge player tumbles in the box, and then “Eh, absolute shite ref” as play is waved on. I decide to take a wander, and alone at the corner of the ground I get to play the ball back to the Clapton full-back Lanre Vigo when it goes out for a throw. There is a pause in the action as the somewhat portly referee Mr James Beal speaks to two complaining Woodbridge players. ”Get on with it Porky” is the shout from the crowd; you can’t beat humour at the expense of fat people. I get to touch the ball back to Lanre Vigo again, this time a header, no one congratulates me and although it does knock my glasses off I thought ’I done well’.
Considering that as someone who paid to get in I am getting too many touches of the ball and am therefore bound to embarrass myself (if the flying glasses haven’t already done so) I walk round to the dug outs on the opposite side of the pitch to the stands. Here the Clapton manager and his coach are providing a constant commentary of the game as they live every touch of the ball by their players. “Why do you put it there?” shouts the manager to his goalkeeper Jack Francis “I keep telling you mate, I don’t want it in the centre I want it here”. There are a number of players who receive constant encouragement and instruction, the names Jerome, Warren, Gio and Dylan feature prominently. Number five Dylan Ebongo is a ‘big lad’ who rivals and outstrips the referee for the space he takes up on the pitch, but as is so often the case with players that spectators accuse of having eaten all the pastry based foods, he can play a bit and Dylan is a rock in the Clapton defence.
It’s about twenty five past three and against the run of play Clapton have a corner; at the near post the ball is flicked on, the young Woodbridge goalkeeper Alfie Stronge flaps a bit and the ball meets the goal net in the lovely way that footballs do; it’s 1-0 to Clapton. “Who scored?” asks the happy and surprised Clapton manager of his neatly coiffured number seven Ryan Reed, but he doesn’t seem to know, or I at least I can’t work out what he says.
“Take heart from that” shouts the Clapton manager to his team as if none of them expects not to lose. Despite his constant imploring and helpful encouragement to his players the Clapton manager seems quite pessimistic in private moments when speaking to his coach or simply verbalising his thoughts, or perhaps he’s just realistic. “We’re our own worst enemy”, “We could be in trouble here”, “Now we’ve got trouble” are a few of his comments as the Woodpeckers press, along with his admirably honest assessment that his team has actually done nothing and Woodbridge have had all the play. Despite being a goal up however, ten minutes before half-time there is a falling out between the manager and his number ten Jerome Mortell. Jerome is threatened with being substituted, but his response is simply “Go on then” and within a minute he is stomping his way round to the dressing room, leaving the pitch with the words “I’ve had enough of this shit”. Clapton had only Jacod Dingli on the bench today, and now he’s on the pitch, but at least they’re still winning and very soon they are almost two-nil up as another corner against the run of play sees a header thud against the woodwork of the Woodbridge goal.

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Across the pitch a tall man, immaculately dressed in a dark suit stands out amongst the general scruffiness of the usual football crowd, I believe this is Vince McBean the current owner of Clapton FC and a controversial figure after he allegedly attempted to liquidate the charity that administers Clapton’s Old Spotted Dog ground. From where I stand he looks like an undertaker.

Half-time and I’m one of the first at the bar for another pint of Ghostship (still £3.50) which I follow up with a visit to the toilet where I admire the juxtaposition of a large print of a sunset over the Woodbridge’s tide mill with the urinals; it makes me think of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’. 20180811_144443_42172634020_oBut there is little time to consider twentieth century art, the players are on the pitch and Woodbridge line-up as Clapton huddle. I return to stand between the dugouts where the entertainment is richest, although I do take a moment to enjoy the Co-op’s side by side, edge of pitch advertisements, one solemnly telling us how their funeral service is “Supporting loved ones locally when it matters” (and presumably telling non-local loved ones to clear off) and the other in a lighter frame of mind urging us to ‘Pop to the Co-op’.

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The second half begins and before not very long Ryan Reed intercepts a poor pass and breaks forward, he rides a tackle and is through on goal, he shoots, Alfie Stronge saves but the ball rebounds to Ryan who strikes it confidently and with force inside the far post from a tight angle. It’s 2-0 to Clapton.
The Clapton manager stresses the importance to his players, particularly to big Dylan at the centre of the defence, of holding onto the 2-0 lead in the next ten minutes, which he says will break Woodbridge’s hearts if they can do it. They do and the game seems to settle down with Woodbridge still dominating possession, but mostly over-hitting all their forward passes and crosses. Substitutions are made by Woodbridge and approaching the last fifteen minutes it looks like Clapton will hold on. The Woodbridge manager who incidentally is probably bigger than both the referee and Clapton’s Dylan seems calm, despite his frequent frustration at those over hit passes, is he resigned to a defeat?
Woodbridge for all their inadequacy in terms of shots, are still dominating however and the ball is spending most of its time on the Clapton half of the field. A Clapton player is nearly always the last man to touch the ball inside their own penalty area, but then just after twenty five to five the ball runs loose and Woodbridge’s number seven Callum Sinclair lashes it on the half volley in to the top corner of the Clapton goal to halve Clapton’s lead and give Woodbridge hope.
I came to this game as a neutral but the enthusiasm of the Clapton manager and coach and the fact that they turned up with just one substitute and seemingly a team that must be coached through every kick has me wanting them to hang on for the win. There is also a bit of me that wants rough, deprived, inner city Clapton to triumph over wealthy, privileged Woodbridge, although of course I know in reality that those distinctions don’t actually have any relevance in the context of these two football clubs.
Woodbridge earn a corner, it’s late in the game and goalkeeper Alfie Stronge comes up to add his presence and he heads narrowly over the Clapton cross bar. The Clapton manager berates his players for trying to pass the ball when clearly a hoof is required. That has been a recurring theme but I find it reassuring that players want to play the game ‘beautifully’, because that’s what makes it so good to watch and play whether it comes off or not. The game is into time added on and a half-hearted challenge which causes a slight stumble but no trip sees Mr Neal award a free-kick just outside the penalty area, in range for a well taken direct shot. The Clapton coach is apoplectic and winds himself up by imagining that it’s as if the referee wants Woodbridge to equalise; the manager is not happy about it but is more sanguine realising that whatever will be, will be on the way to Wemb-er-ley. Woodbridge’s number five Liam Scopes steps up to scoop a shot over the wall and into the top left hand corner of the Clapton goal. Woodbridge have tied the match and the Clapton coach is sent off by Mr Beal for simply getting carried away with himself.
There is no time for anything more to happen and I am only sorry that with the time now almost five o’clock I must leave and hot foot it back the railway station to catch the 17:18 back to Ipswich. It’s been a lovely afternoon in the August sun and a thoroughly entertaining game, which has been a credit to both clubs. I am tempted to try and make it to the replay. I’ve had a great time but in about twenty-five minutes I will realise I no longer have my programme.

Coggeshall Town 3 Stowmarket Town 2

The final Saturday of the football league season has arrived, a special day in the football calendar because it can mean such a lot, or so little. It can be make or break, or it can be pointless, futile, a complete waste of everyone’s time. Too lazy to search for the least important fixture of the day I opt to go to the nearest, which just happens to be the one at which Coggeshall Town will be presented with the Thurlow Nunn Eastern CountiesThurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League trophy Premier league trophy, which is in fact a substantial looking cup. But first it will be necessary to endure another ninety minutes of football.
It’s a warm sunny day in early May, blackbirds and sparrows are nesting in my garden and a nesting box for swifts, swallows or house martins has just this morning been put up under the eaves of my house. It’s the May Day Bank Holiday, which people who vote Conservative shouldn’t be allowed to take; hypocrites. Because the weather is warm and fine Mrs Brooks, who has chronic asthma, is able to accompany me today. Anticipating plenty of people wanting to see Coggeshall presented with the league trophy we set off before two o’clock. It’s a slow journey behind a farm tractor but it still only takes about ten minutes.
The sun beats down on the dry and dusty car park at West Street; the Stowmarket team Stowmarket Town FC busbus is here, provided by Squirrel’s Coaches on which I like to think an-on board hostess offers passengers nut-based snacks. At the turnstile I hand over a twenty pound note, a pound coin and fifty pence piece. In return I receive £10, a programme and a colour picture of the team that won the league on Tuesday night. Admission is £6 for me and £4 for Mrs Brooks who is over 60. Inside the ground the Coggeshall team appear to be having fun warming up on the pitch.Coggeshall Town FC Radio Essex is here in Radio Essex reporterfemale form. Near the main stand we see Jim and Keith; Keith is wearing a T-shirt and shorts, Jim has a coat and a hat. We follow them into the stand to exchange pleasantries; Mrs Brooks hasn’t seen Keith for quite some time, or Jim come to that. Keith is over seventy but points out Olly Murs warming up with the team.
Acquaintances renewed, we head for the bar where Mrs Brooks has a white wine spritzer with soda (£4.00) and I have a pint of Caledonian Brewery Coast to Coast (£3.90), a cold, fizzy beer which I drink very slowly indeed to mitigate its unfortunate repetitive qualities. We step outside to enjoy the Spring sunshine and convivial atmosphere. There are plenty of people on the deck drinking like us and chatting. There is a barbecue set up BBQaround the corner of the dressing rooms beneath a white gazebo. People are stretched out on the grassy bank to the side of the seated stand. This is lovely, a football match crossed with a village fete. “The toilets are fairly good in there” says a Suffolk accent. “ They’re bigger than when I last come” says another in reply.
What looks like a mixture of players from Coggeshall’s Under 9’s and Under 10’s teams lines up at the foot of the steps from the

changing rooms to the pitch. Coggeshall’s giant poultry mascot Rocky the Rooster joins them having been led down the steps by his beak. The Stowmarket Town team joins them too. We wait, and wait a bit more. A sort of Haka can be heard from home team dressing room before the Coggeshall team appears and waits on the steps, why they wait is unclear. Eventually however the players step down towards the pitch to be applauded by their ‘guard of honour’. Handshakes ensue and then we’re ready for the game to begin.


Coggeshall kick off aiming towards the club house and in their customary red and black striped shirts with black shorts, very good they look too. Stowmarket Town, kicking towards the West Street vineyard and the town of Coggeshall itself, sadly haven’t put as much thought into their kit today; they wear their home shirts of amber and black stripes, but because their usual black shorts would be black like Coggeshall’s they have ‘borrowed’ the red shorts from their away kit. The result is an unholy mess, all they needed was white or amber shorts and they would have looked fine, but instead they look like they got changed in the dark.a bit of a mish mash
Mrs Brooks and I sit on the grass slope between the club house and the main stand. The first notable action is when the ball is booted out and hurtles like a space capsule re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere onto the grassy bank making a man in a red and blue checked shirt spill his beer. At the far end of the ground six blokes from Stowmarket sing and bang the perimeter fence like the drunks that they probably are. In front of us a golden retriever or labrador, (who really knows the difference?) looks on and barks excitedly when the ball is hoofed out of defence or when the action gets a bit feisty.


It’s twenty past three and Stowmarket’s number seven is booked for a foul; referee Mr Harrison, a very clean cut, angular looking man raises his yellow card slowly, pointedlyOfficials and dismissively as if to humiliate and punish at the same time. The first corner of the game follows soon after, falling to Coggeshall, but Stowmarket defend it easily and within a minute take the lead as a low cross from the right is turned into the net by the lunging boot of number nine Ace Howell who has evidently wandered un-noticed into the Coggeshall six yard box. Nearby a woman applies sun screen to her arms and the smell of male body spray is wafted by on the breeze, as it does on warm days.
Seven more minutes pass and a deep Coggeshall cross from the right is knocked back into the path of number eight Conor Hubble who steps effortlessly past one defender, sidesteps another and then wellies the ball into the corner of the Stowmarket goal as if to say “ You didn’t really think we wouldn’t equalise did you?”. The Labrador gets excited. Emboldened by the goal, a few Coggeshall supporters shout randomly. “Ridiculous, ref!” is heard as a free-kick goes the ‘wrong way’ and then “Be strong” as if every now and then players are prone to inexplicable weakness and they need reminding not to be.
The shouts of encouragement seemingly have no influence on the score however, which remains 1-1 as Mr Harrison blows for half time. In the break we speak with Paul who is videoing the game and has taken time out to get something to eat at the barbecue. We then meet our next door neighbour, also called Paul who has arrived ‘hot-foot’ from Harry Potter World. Paul is here with his son Sam, who we don’t see at first, but apparently he cuffs the back of his dad’s head as he walk past. Kids of today, eh?
The second half soon unfolds before us and we stand at the other side of the main stand to get a better view of the Coggeshall goals when they arrive, because going to football is all about being optimistic. Stowmarket are now playing into the sun but stood in the metal bus shelter-like stand at the clubhouse end of the ground their fans are even more vociferous than before, although it could all be down to acoustics. The sun is reflecting man with a bike at Coggeshall Townoff the corrugated tin roof of the main stand and a bearded man with long grey hair, tied in a ponytail stands by his bicycle and looks on, which you couldn’t do at a poncey Premier League game, or even at Colchester United, and definitely not for six quid.
“Shall we sing, shall we sing, shall we sing a song for you” sing the Stowmarket fans, confusingly already singing a song. No one responds, understandably. The Stowmarket fans sing the same song, but alter the words. “Who the fuck, who the fuck, who the fuck is Olly Murs?” is now the refrain. No one helps them out, so they make up their own answer, seamlessly switching from the Welsh hymn tune to the Latin American rhythm and beat of Hector Anulo’s ‘Guantanamera’, and singing “Shit Robbie Williams, You’re just a shit Robbie Williams”.
The second half is as competitive as the first on the pitch, but to some extent the teams are both good enough to be cancelling one another out. May be the stalemate is what is causing the Stowmarket fans behind the goal to make their own entertainment by constantly stretching their musical and lyrical imaginations, if not their talent. They get that end of season ‘here to celebrate’ feel as they call to the team manager and others in the dugout to “give us a wave”, which they obligingly do. It’s about twenty five past four and Stowmarket earn two corners either side of a fine diving save from the Coggeshall goalkeeper James Bransgrove. “Small club in Marks Tey, You’re just a small club in Mark’s Tey” sing the Stow’ Town choir once again employing Hector Anulo’s most famous tune.
Coggeshall are having more possession of the ball and are getting forward more frequently. Nnamdi Nwachuku taunts the Stowmarket full-back Ollie Brown with his pace and tricky footwork. A man in a Tottenham Hotspur shirt also taunts the full-back, repeatedly telling him he is has no pace; happily the full-back plays on with a smile. It’s nearly half past four, Coggeshall have a corner and Nnamdi Nwachuku jumps athletically, firmly heading the ball into the goal net. It might be the last game of the season but it means a lot and the players mob Nnamdi joyfully. “Twenty big minutes” shouts someone nearby in a spirit of encouragement; I wonder if to Stowmarket the minutes will be the same size as usual or smaller.
It is half past four and Stowmarket equalise, their number nine, the almost fictionally named Ace Howell slipping the ball past the Coggeshall goalkeeper, applying a very fine end to a passing move. The goal means a lot to Stowmarket, who have won their previous ten consecutive matches and presumably would like to add an eleventh. Now everyone’s minutes are the same size again. Coggeshall return to the Stowmarket end of the ground and Nnamdi Nwachuku is sandwiched between two Stow’ defenders. “Every time” bawls someone to my right as if the visiting defenders follow Nwachuku around in pairs, one either side of him.
It’s twenty to five now and Coggeshall have another free-kick, somewhere near the half way line. The ball is punted beyond the Stowmarket defence; only Coggeshall substitute Tom Monk reacts; he runs on, brings they ball under control and smashes it past Stow’ goalkeeper who has at least moved, unlike his team mates. With every goal the celebrations increase in excitement; it’s now officially a ‘five goal thriller’ as the lead has swung back and forth. The remaining ten minutes are probably going to be big again, although no one mentions it. Coggeshall almost get a fourth goal as their number four George Cocklin spectacularly hits the cross bar with a beautiful 30 yard shot which drops over the goalkeeper’s head, rattles the cross bar and bounces down on the goal line in the way shots have ever since the 1966 World Cup final, but without being goals.
The game is dragging on, Mr Harrison the referee doesn’t seem keen to stop, but of course eventually he blows for the final time this season. Then we wait and wait and

wait for the presentation of the league championship trophy. Tables and billboards are put in place. A stack of what look like small shoe boxes sit by the trophy. Bottles of Prosecco are stood on the tables. The players of both teams loaf about on the turf, the Stowmarket players look increasingly bored. Finally, a short announcement precedes each player each receiving a shoe box as his name is announced to generous applause and then the Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson lifts the trophy in a brief orgasm of streamers and pyrotechnics. Joy and happiness abounds, but for us the afternoon is finished and we go home for a barbecue of our own, leaving others to stay and celebrate.

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