-“Paul says he’s going to watch Coggeshall tonight, do you want to go?”
-“Ooh, I dunno, I hadn’t planned on going, it’s a bit cold. What will you do? Won’t you be lonely here on your own?”
-“I’ll sit here for a bit then just go to bed and read”
-“Oh, okay then, tell him yes”
So it was that I was easily swayed, despite obvious concerns about my wife’s mental well-being; but it turns out she’s not as angst ridden and depressed as me. A half an hour later after wrapping up warm, it is with a glad heart that I ring my neighbour’s door bell and having said hello and goodbye to his wife Sarah we’re away in his white Ford SUV type thing, eventually making best use of its high frame to negotiate the impressively rutted car park of ‘The Crops’, now mainly known as West Street, the home ground of Coggeshall Town.
The glare of the floodlights spills over the car park, and through the half-light Paul spots Olly Murs moving a metal barrier a couple of feet so that the bloke he is with can park a large Audi. At the turnstile Geoff the turnstile operator is his usual cheery and welcoming self. Paul says hello and asks how his boy Mikey is; it turns out Mikey isn’t his boy at all, but the son of a friend. A queue forms at the turnstile as Paul and Geoff natter . Admission is £6 each but there are no programmes, although Geoff says if he can find one about he’ll get it to me., which is nice of him.
As we walk the path towards the club house the teams are already out, warming up and
huddling conspiratorially as if someone is telling a really dark secret or a filthy joke. Paul and I stop a little beyond the stand above what looks like a rabbit burrow and the game soon kicks off. Coggeshall are wearing their customary , attractive kit of red and black striped shirts with black shorts. Tonight’s opponents are Ely City, the only medieval cathedral city in the Eastern Counties Premier League. Coggeshall are second in the league table with a goal difference of plus 93 whilst Ely (nickname The Robins) are bobbing along in mid-table somewhere. Ely are wearing an unusual all-green kit, rendered all the more unusual by red flashes under the armpits. If kits count for anything it’s already 1-0 to Coggeshall.
The game begins frenetically and with a lot of shouting and swearing. “Don’t let ‘em settle”, “Fuckin’ get into ‘em” are the early cries along with inevitable “Second ball!” It’s a very Anglo-Saxon approach, which no doubt does a huge disservice to the somewhat forgotten, more artistic Anglo-Saxons responsible for all the lovely brooches and buckles. The harsh voices ring out through the cold night air. Ten minutes gone and Coggeshall have the first shot; number ten Ross Wall bearing down on goal from the right only to scuff his shot into the side netting.
Coggeshall seem in a hurry, but lack accuracy as a result and Ely are doing alright. It’s two minutes past eight and a ball to the left, then a ball over the top of the Coggeshall defence is struck deftly with the outside of his boot high into the Coggeshall goal by the Ely number nine Dan Brown, which is a great name for a bloke playing for a team from a medieval cathedral city. It’s to be hoped he’ll be drinking his half-time cuppa from some sort of grail. It’s a very fine goal indeed and a bunch of four or five well insulated people in front of us cheer and clap as if they have come all the way from Ely, and they probably have.
Ely are happily surprised, Coggeshall a bit taken aback, but as the first half proceeds it seems Ely are worth their lead. In their haste Coggeshall are forgetting to do anything in midfield and Ely are able have a decent amount of possession and prevent them from establishing any sort of passing rhythm. Five minutes later and the Ely ‘keeper is heard to shout “Keep going”, which seems a bit desperate when there’s still seventy minutes left; it’s a bit early to have considered not being able to carry on.
Further up the pitch the language is more colourful, or whatever colour the word “fuckin” is. “Fuckin’ ‘ell lino” someone exclaims and then Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson announces “That was a fuckin’ elbow”, he then repeats himself before running up to referee George Byrne to say “Ref, that was a fuckin’ elbow” , just in case he was in any doubt that it was a “fuckin’ elbow”.
They’re not playing well but Coggeshall have had a few corners and are still getting chances to score; Wall first sends the ball past the other post and then has it saved by the Ely goalkeeper Ben Mayhew. Number nine Nnamdi Nwachuku swings his foot limply at the ball and misses it when he has just Ben Mayhew between him and the goal. “It’s coming” says a bloke on the path near us. He then says it again. There is a belief that if something is said enough it becomes reality and mysteriously this comes true as eventually Wall has a shot from about 10 metres out and several deflections later the ball flies past a startled Ben Mayhew off a nearby team mate and into the net. It’s about twenty past eight now and before half-time Paul volunteers to get us both a pounds worth of tea, which we have our hands cupped around as the players leave the field to encouraging shouts from both sets of supporters. Everybody can be happy and enjoy their tea, because no one is losing.
My winter clothing (a pair of wool socks, a pair of football of socks (Portsmouth), a T-shirt, a long sleeve cotton football shirt (Brighton & Hove Albion), a woolly jumper, overcoat, scarf (Clermont Foot) and woolly hat (Ipswich Town)) is either very effective or it can’t be that cold because I don’t go into the clubhouse at half time, but instead stand with Paul and natter to Jimmy who plays guitar and to Keith who is retired and used to work in a bank. The hot tea must help mind.
The second half is soon with us and we wander to the other end of the ground to get a better view of the Coggeshall goals when they go in. Initially, nothing changes and Ely continue to be the better team in midfield, which gives them a chance. The Ely number eleven Josh Sewell is particularly good, despite looking like he may be carrying a few extra pounds, and he dances over and around the ball, dribbling and turning like a footballer should. The portly footballer, always a midfielder or occasionally a full-back is a joy to watch and every team should have one.
Coggeshall are still regularly getting forward however, although some of their supporters seem to have gained a somewhat unattractive sense of entitlement. “Jesus Chr-i-st” is the refrain as defender from the cathedral city team executes a tackle in the penalty area and a Coggeshall forward goes down; a barrage of gor-blimey complaining ensues. Two minutes later however, it’s all forgotten, although not by me obviously, as a cross from the left is deftly but firmly headed past Mayhew by Wall. The goal jogs the collective Coggeshall Town memory and they start to play properly in midfield too. Ten minutes later and Nwachuku cuts back and then unexpectedly hooks a shot from a narrow angle into the far top corner of the goal. He looks very pleased with himself, which in the circumstances is understandable, it was a pretty good goal.
Ely probably won’t come back from this but it doesn’t stop them trying. Coggeshall find it necessary to concede free-kicks to stop them and captain Luke Wilson is cautioned for his trouble by the gangly Mr Byrne, who with his very long neck is a strangely imposing figure as he holds his yellow card aloft. Meanwhile Wilson’s foul and caution cause apoplexy with one of tracky-bottomed members of the Ely management duo , who seems aggrieved that Wilson has not been sent off. In a fit of temper he kicks the woodwork of the dug-out and generally stomps about embarrassingly, displaying a regrettable absence of Corinthian spirit. The referee’s assistants are Kenneth Reeves and Jack Willmore and the bald one in the tight shirt who looks like he is probably Kenneth Reeves goes and has a word.
There is no let up in the competiveness or swearing which becomes more bizarre “Someone fuckin’ do it for me” shouts an unidentified player. It’s as if tonight someone has told the players not to bother about the Eastern Counties League’s “Keep it down for the kids” initiative to curb bad language; after all there are no programmes tonight carrying the reminder to everyone and it’s a school night anyway. Just before half past nine Wall scores a fourth as the ball drops to him conveniently just six metres from goal and he boots it into the roof of the net.
The result is settled but the entertainment continues and there is still time for Ely’s Tom Williams to clatter into a Coggeshall player from behind and get the benefit of Mr Byrne’s extended card bearing right arm. As the assaulted Coggeshall player lies prone on the ground the ball is kicked at him, or it at least hits him, even if not intentionally. “R-e-f, R-e-f, R-e-f” someone whines. “He fuckin’ kicked the ball at him”, “R-e-f , he fuckin’ kicked the ball at him, R-e-f” . I imagine the whiner’s mum had to put up with the same when he was younger. “M-u-m, m-u-m, m-u-m, she pulled a face at me mum” and then his teachers “ M-i-ss, M-i-ss, M-i-ss, can I go to the toilet?” Meanwhile the Ely goalkeeper leaves his goal to join in with the squabbling and do a “Yap, yap, yap” mime with his be-gloved right hand; he looks like he’s brought along a glove puppet and I am reminded of the late Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop.
The ensuing free-kick brings no further goals and with the cold having now penetrated my shoes, both pairs of socks and ascended up them to just below my knees, Mr Byrne’s final whistle is excellent relief. Paul and I turn smartly to the exit, I wave to Jimmy the guitarist and we are heading for Paul’s white Ford and the short trip home. As Paul reverses the Ford onto his driveway we reflect on a fine evening’s entertainment. Might do that again sometime.