Ipswich Town 4 Buxton 0

Once upon a time, five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon in November in suburban England would have been the time to be thinking about sitting down to eat toasted teacakes or buttered crumpets with a pot of tea and perhaps a slice of Battenburg or Dundee cake.  In our modern times of course, anything goes, and we are free from the strictures of Sunday tea and can now watch football whenever we want, or whenever someone in China, Canada, Bolivia, Cuba, Cyprus, Guadeloupe, Israel, Latvia, Nicaragua, St Kitts and Nevis, Switzerland, Thailand, US Virgin Islands, Uruguay or Vietnam, to name just a few, wants to show it on the telly in their far-off Ipswich Town supporting country.  Today therefore, for the benefit of viewers of TV channels such as Star+, ESPN Play Caribbean, Nova Sport 1, Bilibili and Astro SuperSport, I am pleased to attend my first ever 5 o’clock kick-off football match and  forego my usual relaxing Sunday evening at home in which I try and savour the final few hours of the weekend before the drudgery of another working week. 

The TV viewers of Brunei and Ecuador etcetera are as discerning as you or I and naturally would not watch any old rubbish, which is why today’s match is special; today Ipswich Town play Buxton in the second round of the FA Cup.  Buxton F.C. are in the National League North, the sixth tier of the league pyramid, although oddly the game is not being shown in Egypt.   Sixth ‘tierness’ is a status Buxton share with the likes of Banbury United, Blyth Spartans, Bradford Park Avenue and other clubs many of which don’t begin with the letter ‘B’, like Spennymoor Town.  I recall visiting Buxton on a family holiday to the Peak District in 1976, and then again in 1986 when I was best man at a friend’s wedding there; I spent the night in a caravan that looked like it had travelled forward in time from the 1950’s; of course it had done, but just a day at a time. 

Today might be a special match day in some ways, what with the impending thrill of knock-out cup football and the kick-off time being moved for the benefit of unknown Venezuelan and Costa Rican couch potatoes, but mostly it’s not, and after parking up my trusty Citroen C3, I am soon crossing the threshold of the Arbor House (formerly The Arboretum) like I do before every match. Today, I purchase a pint of Woodforde’s Norfolk Nog (£4.10) which makes me feel slightly traitorous, but I soon recover before joining Mick in the pub garden.  Being a damp, dreary day there is just one other drinker in the garden and he soon departs leaving us to talk about our beers, (Mick is drinking Mauldon’s Moletrap) buying an electric car, the world from a Marxist perspective, this year’s local government pay deal and the reality of cities like Cambridge, Oxford and Brighton away from the colleges and the candy floss. After a further single malt whisky for Mick and a half of Woodforde’s Hiberno (£6.80) for me, which leads to a discussion about whether Hibernia was the Roman name for Scotland or Ireland (it was Ireland), we head off into the quiet of a Sunday evening in Ipswich.  I remark how it’s so quiet that it doesn’t feel like we’re going to a football match;  more like we’re going to evensong, which leads Mick to confess to having been an altar boy at Orford church in the far off days before he hit the hippie trail to Morocco. It’s not until we get to Civic Drive that we see anyone else who is obviously heading for the match. If LS Lowry had been from Ipswich and gone out with his easel on a night like this he’d have had to have painted something else.  But behind the Sir Bobby Robson stand, a long queue snakes along the back of the stand towards the turnstiles beyond.  Mick and I are wise however to the propensity some people have for joining the first queue they see,  and we walk on further towards the corporation bus depot.  At the last turnstile (No58), we attach ourselves to a queue of about five other people and are soon stepping out across the artificial grass towards the entrance to the palatial Block Y of the Magnus west stand.

We take our seats just as the teams are walking onto the pitch past Crazee the mascot and a mysterious reindeer; we stand to applaud and stay on our feet as there is a minute’s applause for the recently deceased David Johnson, arguably Town’s third best-ever centre-forward after Paul Mariner and Ray Crawford.   We will later learn that there are fewer than 10,000 of us in Portman Road this evening, but there is nevertheless a frisson of excitement around the ground as a fine drizzle starts to fall and the game begins with Town kicking off towards what was Churchman’s when David Johnson last played here. Buxton are wearing a kit of white shirts and dark blue shorts giving them the air of a poor man’s Tottenham Hotspur, and oddly they have no players of colour.

The opening minutes are dull as Town accelerate slowly through several gears like a very large articulated lorry before finding their desired passing rhythm.  The fragile enthusiasm of the home crowd quickly dissipates and it’s open season for the Buxton fans to begin singing “We’ve got more fans than you” before gaining in confidence with a chorus of “Your support is fucking shit” and then asking the ultimate, damning question “Is this a library?”.   Naively perhaps, I didn’t expect the followers of non-league Buxton to sing the same tired, unimaginative old songs as followers of Football League teams and it sets me to wondering if the folk that occupy the end of the upper tier of the Cobbold Stand aren’t actually just the same people every fortnight but wearing different colour replica shirts. Thoughts like this can make you question the very nature of reality.

Although Buxton might be dominating the singing with their off the shelf wit, on the pitch their team are barely getting sight of the ball, let alone a touch.  Such is Town’s superiority in keeping the ball that the Buxton fans are reduced to cheering enthusiastically when they win a throw-in.  When Buxton do win the ball Ipswich invariably win it straight back.  But nevertheless, the first fifteen minutes or so are a bit dull.  Mick yawns.  The bloke behind me starts to pray audibly that something will happen. “Here we go” he says optimistically whenever a Town player takes the ball forward more than a couple of paces.   Patient passing football to draw the opposition onto you and create spaces to move into is all very well, but this is the FA Cup for which the watch words are surely “Up and at ’em”.

“Shall we sing, shall we sing , shall we sing a song for you?” ask the Buxtonians through the medium of Cwm Rhondda, which seems appropriate if this is evensong. Sufficiently goaded by the Buxtonians up in the Cobbold stand, a few of the occupants of the Sir Bobby Robson stand summon a limp rendition of “Come On You Blues” before a more lively burst of rhythmic clapping  emerges and even a few extroverts around me in the Magnus west stand  join in .  The first half is half over, but Town are now into their passing stride and are putting in crosses and looking likely to score.  “Addy, Addy, Addy-O” chants what used to be the North Stand.  “Come on ref” moans the woolly-hatted geriatric next to me for some reason I haven’t spotted. Beyond the dark sloping roof of the Magnus Stand the fine steady drizzle looks like steam.  The first Buxton player is booked and then referee Mr Ross Joyce gets into his stride too and records the name of Town’s first Welsh Scandinavian Geordie, Leif Davis in his little notebook too.   It looks like a second Buxton player has got away with a foul on Kyle Edwards but it’s as if Mr Joyce is thinking to himself, “No, I think I will book him after all” and shows a slightly belated yellow card.

The last third of the half begins and the game has blossomed into something quite enjoyable as Town dominate and create chances but still haven’t scored. But then Wes Burns speeds off down the right , crosses the ball low to Conor Chaplin who skips to one side and sends a darting angled shot into the bottom right hand corner of the Buxton goal from about 12 metres out; it’s a trademark Conor Chaplin goal. Four minutes later Kyle Edwards races into the penalty area, ball at his feet and Buxton players flailing around him before releasing a low cross, which Gassan Ahadme turns into a goal from very close range.

This is how things should be and I can only wonder why 9,000 voices aren’t singing “Wemb-er-ley, Wemb-er-ley, we’re the famous Ipswich town and we’re going to Wemb-er-ley”, but they’re not. With the half-time whistle I descend into the bowels of the stand to drain off some Woodforde’s beer whist Mick queues for a vegan pie which he is impressed to find comes with a wooden spork.

The second half is a breeze. Sam Morsy earns his customary booking to help keep the third division title race alive for Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday and a pair of young players get their opportunity to play as Leif Davis and Cameron Humphreys are substituted for Tawanda Chirewa and Albie Armin. The drizzle persists.  Buxton bring on a substitute with the memorable name of Harry Bunn and Town add two more goals, another typical, but more spectacular strike from Conor Chaplin and a less characteristic one-on-one shot into the corner from Kayden Jackson, but a fine goal nonetheless.  Four-nil is the perfect score for this match, reflecting Town’s complete domination and superiority but not causing unwarranted and undeserved humiliation for Buxton.

With the final whistle Mick and I stay briefly to applaud before making the long way down to the ground and out into the damp, drizzly night.  “Well worth a fiver wasn’t it”, I tell Mick who agrees, but feels guilty that his seat was half the price of mine.  I tell him it’s not his fault I’m so young and he asks me when I will get my pension. “Four more years” I tell him, stupidly channelling Richard Nixon. But at least Town are into the third round of the Cup and TV viewers all over the planet know it. “Wemb-er-ley! Wemb-er-ley!” they must be singing.

Coggeshall Town 2 Felixstowe & Walton United 1


It’s Easter and it is unseasonably warm. The mercury hit 23 degrees in my back garden yesterday and today could be warmer. In holiday mood and beneath a clear blue sky my wife Paulene and I set off in our trusty Citroen C3 on the short journey to Coggeshall to watch Coggeshall Town play Felixstowe & Walton United in the Bostik League, Division One North. We are taking the scenic route today in order to drop off Easter eggs for the grandsons; I feel like the Easter Bunny.

On arrival at their house, their father Colin is slouched watching Tottenham Hotspur on the telly, he responds mono- syllabically to our attempts at conversation. Tottenham are losing, I quietly hope that they continue to do so. Grandson Harvey is as loquacious as his father, but does let Paulene know as economically as possible that it’s the same type of Easter egg we bought him last year.

With Easter eggs delivered we obligingly pop to the Co-op as their advertisements tell us to, so that I can draw some cash and Paulene can buy chocolate of her own; non-dairy chocolate, white vanilla by i-choc; Paulene is dairy intolerant. Leaving the treasures of the Co-op behind us we complete the third leg of our journey, heading along West Street before turning left in to the bouncy car park of what was once known colourfully as ‘The Crops’, but has boringly been re-christened the West
Street Ground; how dull. Our Citroen C3 wishes it was a 2CV. A steward directs me to pull up close “to that one over there” a large Vauxhall. We disembark and a car load of Felixstowe followers park up next to us in another, smaller Vauxhall. At the turnstile I hand over two ten pound notes and receive £3.50 is change (Adult £10, Pensioner £5, programme £1.50). “Enjoy the match” says the turnstile operator “You too” I tell him “If you get to see it”. Oddly, the cost of entry has gone up a pound since I last was here for the FA Cup tie versus Witham in August last year, maybe FA Cup ties are just cheaper

We walk along the concrete path to the clubhouse, looking down upon the pitch on to which water sprinklers gently play. The path along the ‘top of the ground’, behind the main stand is one of the things I like best about “The Crops”. In the clubhouse Tottenham are still on the telly and they’re still losing. To celebrate I order a glass of Rose and a pint of Adnams Ghostship (£7.90 for the two); disappointingly the Ghostship is of the fizzy variety, but at least it’s not Greene King.

Drinks in hands we step back outside and sit at a “Yogi Bear–style picnic table”, I order a sausage roll (£3.50) from the ‘tea-hatch’. £3.50 might seem a lot for a sausage roll but there is more sausage meat in this sausage roll than in all the sausage rolls ever sold by Greggs put together; and this is real sausage meat, not a weird pink paste. I exaggerate perhaps, but not much. In truth, there is perhaps so much sausage meat that I would recommend bringing a small selection of pickles to help it down and add further to your enjoyment.

A steady stream of locals and visiting Felixstowe supporters make their way to the clubhouse from the turnstile and car park beyond, along the concrete path. Eventually I finish my sausage roll and we decide to take shelter from the sun in the shade of the main stand, which the Coggeshall Town website tells us was erected in 1964. We find seats near the middle of the stand at the very back, two seats behind Keith and Jim, who are in the front row and kindly share their team sheets with us.

Keith and Jim went to watch Colchester United play Grimsby Town yesterday; Keith nearly fell asleep he tells us. A friend of Keith and Jim arrives and hands out bars of chocolate, explaining that he won’t be at the game next week.

The teams are announced over one of the clearest sounding PA systems I have ever heard at a football ground and the teams line-up for the ritual shaking of hands; “See, home team on the left, away team on the right” points out Paulene, giving closure to a conversation we had over dinner a few days ago. It’s something I had never noticed, perhaps because I don’t care enough.

Coggeshall kick-off in the direction of the clubhouse and Braintree far beyond, wearing their red and black striped shirts with black shorts and red socks; it’s a fine looking kit. Sartorially however, Felixstowe do their best to match them with an attractive away ensemble of pale blue and white striped shirts with white shorts; if the two-teams swapped shorts and Coggeshall bleached their socks it would look like AC Milan v Argentina. Felixstowe, known as The Seasiders, aim in the direction of the car park and downtown Coggeshall, with its clock tower and the Co-op. Coggeshall, or The Seedgrowers as they are known informally are swift going forward and dominate the early stages.

Felixstowe don’t look much good. The play is rough and the Felixstowe No3, Henry Barley goes down two or three times, much to the disgust of some of the home crowd. “Pussy” shouts one, “Watch him, he doesn’t fancy it anymore” says the man next to me, “It’s a man’s game” calls another. “Erm no, Aussie Rules is a man’s game” says Paulene as a quiet aside, just to me. So far the game has mostly been Coggeshall’s Nnamdi Nwachuku and Michael Gyasi harrying the Felixstowe defence with their speed and nifty footwork. Seventeen minutes pass, Coggeshall piece together a few passes down the right and a cross finds No8 Tevan Allen; he is on his own at the near post. With time on his hands Tevan kicks the ball up in the air and then, as it drops back down to head height, executes a spectacular overhead kick sending it into the far corner of the goal. It is a remarkable goal, even more so if the initial kick up in the air was intended rather than being a case of not quite controlling the ball, but the latter sadly seems more likely. Tevan celebrates appropriately.

With the breakthrough made, Coggeshall will surely go on score more. But no, with the breakthrough made Felixstowe improve and begin to get forward themselves, often on ‘the break’ with their No9, the heftily built Liam Hillyard, a sort of non-league version of former Ipswich Town player Martyn Waghorn, making the runs into the penalty area. The game stagnates a bit as it becomes more even, with neither side playing particuarly well. The referee Mr Karl Sear makes himself unpopular with the home supporters because he doesn’t book any Felixstowe players, only talks to them, whilst also awarding Felixstowe several free-kicks, seemingly for not much at all.

My attention wanders and I admire a rusty hole in the corrugated iron roof of the stand; ventilation is just what’s needed on a warm day like today.
With a fraction more than five minutes until half-time, Liam Hillyard breaks down the right for Felixstowe, he confuses the Coggeshall defenders sufficiently to pass the ball across the penalty area to Henry Barley who looks to have taken the ball too close to goal before booting it high into the net from an acute angle. After the comments made towards him earlier, Henry Barley might allow himself a wry smile (geddit?).

Things look bleak for Coggeshall; having failed to make the most of their advantage they have now lost it. But football as a game apart from being old is nothing if not funny and soon The Seedgrowers win a free kick. The ball is struck hopefully into the penalty area, players jump and the ball hits random body parts, boots are swung in the direction of the moving ball but none makes proper contact, a Felixstowe player sends the ball towards his own goalkeeper, two Felixstowe defenders go to aim a kick but politely leave it to one another; tired and bemused by its long journey across the penalty area the ball gives itself up to a surprised Nnamdi Nwachuku who happily scores a close-range goal as ropey as the Seedgrowers’ first goal was spectacular. The goal is greeted almost with jeers and laughter, but it still counts and it makes Nnamdi and this little corner of Coggeshall very happy.
Half-time soon follows and we leave our seats; Paulene to use the facilities, me to take our coats back to the car, we really won’t need them today. “Are you leaving?” asks Keith. I reassure him that
I’ll be back for the second half.

Returning from the Citroen I meet my next door neighbour Paul and his eldest son Matthew on the concrete path as they head to the car park end that Coggeshall will be attacking in the second half. Paul has captured the glory of Coggeshall’s second goal on his mobile phone, I think the best bit is where the two Felixstowe defenders let each other boot the ball and neither does. On the grass bank below the concrete path is Colin with his wife Tessa and grandson Harvey and Paulene; I join them in the sunshine and eat a coconut based flapjack that I bought at the Co-op and on which the chocolate has melted. I get just four out of ten in the “Seedgrowers’ half-time quiz” in the programme; how is any one supposed to know that Jamie Carragher has the middle names Lee and Duncan? The second half begins.

The expectation amongst those around me is that Coggeshall will score a third goal, but it doesn’t happen. The game becomes niggly and fractious with lots of swear words; Coggeshall Town is the place to come for sweary football. I kick back and stretch out on the grass enjoying the warmth of the Spring sunshine and the stillness of the afternoon, the peacefulness only punctuated by angry curses from players and supporters and frantic scribbling in his notebook by referee Mr Sear who books six players, three from each team including both Coggeshall goalscorers. Some decent chances to score are missed by both teams and Felixstowe perhaps have the best ones, but if you’d never been to a football match before and had come along because you’d heard about “the beautiful game”, you’d think Pele was a liar. The final act sees Felixstowe’s Callum Bennet sent off by Mr Sears for a poorly thought-out tackle, although conveniently for Bennett he didn’t have far to go because he committed the foul quite close to the corner of the field and the steps to the changing room; so it wasn’t all bad.

With the final whistle I reflect upon what has been a beautiful afternoon in the sun before we head back to the clubhouse for another drink; it’s that kind of a day. I look out for Jim and Keith as the ground empties but don’t see them, I worry that Keith thinks I didn’t return for the second half, which would make me no better than Pele.

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 Counties

Thurlow 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 bus

bus 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 reporter

female 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

BBQ

around 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 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, pointedly

Officials

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 Town

off 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Witham Town 1 AFC Hornchurch 6

Today is a bright and beautiful Spring day and it’s a ten minute train ride (£4.25 return with a Gold Card) to Witham, once an elegant country town with a spa, but since the 1960’s consumed by massive estates of London County Council overspill housing. The train is on time, opposite me six blokes in their late twenties or early thirties and one who looks older, talk uninterestingly about a mystery Tottenham Hotspur player. “Last season he was good, he just went in and got the ball and passed it to someone else, but then he started doing all this twisty-turny stuff …”
As I get off the train a railway employee carrying a metal ramp looks at me and in vain for a passenger in a wheelchair. I point down to the next set of doors on the car “He’s getting off down there” I tell him, not lying. Witham station is of red brick and has

Witham Railway Station

decorative cast iron pillars and brackets holding up the canopies over the platforms; a bright and airy glazed bridge above takes you to the road outside. It was much re-built in the early twentieth century after some of it was demolished by a de-railed express train. It’s a lovely old station, a bit like a film set; I look without success for Celia Johnson or Trevor Howard.
A few football supporters, one with a red and white bar scarf, stand outside the Railway pub, which is across the road.

The Railway pub Witham

It’s a fifteen minute walk from the station to Witham Town’s Spa Road ground and I turn left crossing the bridge over the railway tracks. Beyond the station is Baird’s maltings, a looming backdrop of steel grain holders and monumental concrete, Witham’s cathedral. An Australian flag flies outside the maltings signifying its ownership by the international, antipodean brewing suppliers, Graincorp Malt Group.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I turn right over the bridge into Collingwood Road, past the Labour Party Hall and on into Guithavon Valley, through the nature reserve that straddles the strangely named River Brain. The path turns back through a mighty brick tunnel beneath the

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

railway line; rounding the corner past an Asda the ‘Village Glass Stadium’ comes into view at the top of a grassy rise. Set apart from any houses or other buildings, surrounded by a steel palisade fence and with its floodlights and a cross of St George flying above, Witham Town’s ground looks like a commercially sponsored pre-historic hillfort; the access road winds up between the ramparts. Wikipedia tells us that there is evidence of Neolithic occupation in Witham. If there was a zombie apocalypse in Witham, this would be the place to come to be besieged.

Witham Town

As I cross Spa Road towards the ground a stag party wearing stripy blazers and false

moustaches walks from the direction of the football ground. The access to the ground is not pedestrian friendly, there is no dedicated footpath, so I clamber up the grassy bank. It’s not obvious where the turnstiles are but they’re not hard to find. I tender a twenty pound note for the £8 entry fee, but the turnstile operator has little change and asks if I’ve got anything smaller, as it happens I have a fiver and some coins for which I am given an orange ticket. With no change left I tender a twenty pound note to the programme seller who fortunately has plenty of change. The programme (£2) is for three matches this week as Witham catch up on their fixtures after several recent postponements due to very wet weather. Flush with pound coins I lighten the load on my left trouser pocket by investing in a strip of five tickets for the 50-50 draw (£1).
The club shop is a cupboard by the turnstile, the stock is in a cardboard box, but nothing takes my fancy so I look for the bar; I can’t find it so poke my head around the door of the portacabin that is the boardroom to ask directions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the outside wall of the portacabin is a large advert for the local Tory MP, Priti Patel;

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wonder to myself if she gets to many games now, between her secret meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu; maybe she brings him along to enjoy hospitality in the portacabin. It seems there is no direct access from inside the ground into the bar, but it is possible to get a drink through the hatch from which teas and coffees and trays of chips are sold, so that’s what I do. Pleased that I’ve beaten the rush, I watch a queue grow at the tea hatch as I sit in the sun at a Yogi-bear-style picnic table with my programme and a plastic cup of John Smith’s Bitter (£3.40); sadly only pasteurised beer is available.
Sensing the onset of kick-off I stir myself and arrive pitch side as the teams enter the

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

arena and go through the pre-match handshakes. Witham kick-off the game towards the railway line end sporting white shirts, navy blue shorts and red socks, whilst Hornchurch are in a change-kit of all-yellow, presumably they’ve not worn they’re usual red and white striped shirts and red shorts because their socks would also be red, like Witham’s. Witham, who are 14th out of twenty-four in the Bostik North Division table start well and look keen. AFC Hornchurch, who are ten points clear at the top of the table and only need a win to secure promotion, look less so, but their fans are here in numbers and are in good voice singing a variety of songs about ‘ornchurch. Interestingly Hornchurch are nicknamed The Urchins, a name presumably constructed for the last four letters of the word Hornchurch and considered preferable to a nickname based on the first four letters of the word. Urchins make up a good deal more than half of the attendance of 178 today.
I wander around the ground taking in the sights and sounds. I hear half a conversation between the two number eights, diminutive, alice band-wearing John Watson, captain of Witham and the huge Olu Oluwatimilehin of Hornchurch. Watson must have been complaining about a challenge as I hear Oluwatimilehin say “But I am always fair”. I watch him for a bit and he’s right, he is a massive bloke but he’s a gentle giant; if he wasn’t Watson would have been flattened.
The game is a bit messy. There are moments of individual skill in controlling and passing the ball but they don’t join up. In a moment of disinterest I spot the Baird maltings off in the distance beyond one corner of the ground and in another I am somewhat repulsed

p4140082.jpg

by an advert for “Personal Vapour ”, which sounds faintly disgusting. It’s almost twenty past three and George Purcell shoots at the Witham goal, he shins the ball hopelessly but it’s a perfect pass to Brad Warner who scores easily, and against the run of play Hornchurch are ahead. Celebration ensues on the pitch and behind the goal and the game has life. Every few minutes a long white train slides past on the embankment beyond the Hornchurch fans who are singing, to the tune of Rod Stewart’s Sailing “ We are ‘ornchurch, no one likes us, we don’t care” . At the end of a verse I ask the nearest Urchin “ So why does no one like ‘ornhurch then?”. “I dunno” he says “ Beats me an’ all” .
Witham have a small vocal knot of fans behind the other goal whose constant chants echo off the tin walls and roof of the stand. With almost one union flag or cross of St George for each of them, from a distance they look unfortunately like an ad hoc meeting of the BNP. At about half-past three Kenzer Lee clears a Witham Town shot off the goal line, but now it’s almost half-time and a corner to Hornchurch is headed in at the far post by Elliott Styles who ironically only a short while before had been treated for a head injury. It’s 2-0 to happy Hornchurch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With half-time I feel in need of refreshment and head for the tea and chips hatch, but seeing a group walk out through a gate marked with a no entry sign and on into the car park from where it is possible to access the club house, I follow. At the bar, a woman possibly in her seventies and a man who is perhaps slightly older and wears a shirt and tie and a cardigan, serve drinks assisted by a much younger woman who reminds very vaguely of that Dr.Lucy Worsley off the telly; I think it’s only her haircut. In the absence of any real beer I order a pint of John Smith’s Bitter (£3.40) and take a seat at a table in front of the television. I watch the half-time scores. Opposite me is an elderly, grey haired man with a somewhat miserable demeanour. Every word he speaks seems to betray a lifetime of disappointment. He’s looking at a betting slip and at the half-time scores, which seem to be going his way. A younger, red-faced man in a Hornchurch shirt is looking over his shoulder. “Oh, you don’t want that” he says “Newport are two up”. The older man looks down at the piece of paper. “Aaah Shit!” he blurts with the deepest imaginable bitterness. The old man is just like Reg (Karl Johnson), the character from the BBC Two TV comedy series “Mum”.
I leave the club house and head out into the car park and back into the stadium through the turnstiles. I haven’t won the 50-50 draw and the game has just started again. The Hornchurch fans are singing “We’re on our way, we’re on our way, to the Bostik Premier, We’re on our way”. But are they counting un-hatched chickens? Just before a quarter past four Witham score, a cross from John Watson is neatly half volleyed past Urchin’s goalkeeper Sam Mott by Liam Whipps. “Come on ‘ornchurch, get your arses into gear” bellows a man just behind me. Three minutes later and bottoms are apparently engaged as George Purcell is felled in the penalty area and referee Mr Hancock awards a penalty kick from which Purcell himself scores.
Unusually for me, the second half is all about the football as first Witham are also awarded a penalty, which Sam Mott saves and then almost instantly the ball is booted up the other end of the pitch; Bobby Mason the Witham ‘keeper misses the ball and Alex Bentley who has replaced Olu Oluwatimilehin, rolls it into the net to give Hornchurch a 4-1 lead, and it’s not half past four yet. In celebration the Hornchuch fans sing to the tune of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 (Land of Hope & Glory) “We ‘ate Dag’nam and Re-dbridge, We ‘ate Ca-nvey too, (they’re shit), We ‘ate Gra-ys A-ffle’ic, But ‘ornchurch we love you”.
Goal number five for Hornchurch, a Brad Warner header from a right wing cross, is scored with a bit more than ten minutes left and the Hornchurch fans’ thoughts turn to a night of continued celebration and they sing “We’re on the piss, with Dave Collis” ; Dave Collis being a substitute who for some reason remains on the bench. Finally, in time added on for injuries and for bad behaviour, of which there has been none, Alex Bentley strikes a shot against the base of a goal post and Chris Assambalonga scores simply from the re-bound. The final score is Witham Town 1 AFC Horchurch 6.
I linger a short while to witness the joy of the Hornchurch players and supporters cavorting about in front of and within the tin stands, but then head off back out through the turnstile, down the grassy slope, across Spa Road, past Asda where I overtake ‘Reg’ and on through the nature reserve, past the Labour Party hall towards the railway station and the view of the maltings.
It’s been a typical late season afternoon of football in the sunshine, but with added trains, dropped aitches and two teams of displaced eastenders. But most of all it’s been an afternoon in which Hornchurch has broken free of the shackles of pointlessness and failure that anchor everyone else, to win promotion; and it’s lovely to see, particularly if it’s really true that no one likes them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ipswich Town 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

The relief brought on through the carefree joy of watching non-league football at Coggeshall last night was brief and within twenty-four hours I am back to watching “Championship” football, by which I mean Football League Division Two football at the theatre of the un-dead that is Portman Road.
But today’s game is against top of the league Wolverhampton Wanderers, a club that as much as Leeds United reeks of 1974, smells of the 1950’s and the scent of the Beverley sister who married Billy Wright. The Wolves have done very little of note in the last sixty years, but for a couple of League Cup wins in the 1970’s, and even Norwich have won the League Cup; but they still have a certain je ne sais quoi, as well as old gold shirts and black shorts.
It is a dull, grey January day as I walk to the railway station; there are spits of moisture in the air, the portents of more to come. I arrive at the station about a minute before the

train, which is on time, I board a freshly refurbished carriage which has a faint smell of new car given off by its grey upholstery; the theme is grey, with a white ceiling; it’s bright but dull, but heck, it’s not my living room, just a train. On the opposite side of the carriage sits a man with a beer belly, he is slumped with his head resting against the window, a blue cable leads from his trouser pocket to the electrical socket beneath the window; it’s as if his loins are on a life support machine. He has hair like the late Reg Varney. Opposite him an unnaturally blond woman of a similar age is engrossed with a mobile phone. They both cough and get off the train together at Colchester. As the train pulls into a Manningtree a man is sat on a bench on the platform for London, he is wearing a large set of earphones and is eating a sandwich from a tin foil package spread open on his lap. Five people get onto the train, one is a man with a bald head and three rings through his left ear lobe that look like he could hang a curtain from them.


In Ipswich the weather is the same. As I cross the road a group of blokes smoke cigarettes outside the front door of the Station Hotel, which is where Wolves supporters and only Wolves supporters have been directed to drink. On the back of a traffic light there is reminder of Town’s last home fixture against Leeds, a sticker that says

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“McCallister,Strachan, Batty, Speed, Last Proper Champions”. It is a view I subscribe to because the Premier League is an abomination, but I worry about the omission of the other seven players in the Leeds team of 1992, particularly Lee Chapman.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Portman Road is being blocked off whilst supporters stand about waiting for the turnstiles to open. I follow a man up Portman Road who is wearing a grey tracksuit with a hood, he looks like an enormous toddler in a romper suit, the seat of his tracky bottoms is baggy like he’s forgotten to put on his nappy. I open the door to St Jude’s Tavern; bloody hell, the place is heaving. Most of the clientele are Wolves fans with a love of real ale. Having worked my way to the bar I order a pint of St Jude’s St Mary Stout (£3.60) and then work my way back to sit at a table where three blokes in their sixties are sat; they seem to be together but they’re not talking and even seem to be avoiding eye contact. I turn to one and say “Are you all Wolves fans then, or are you just here for a quiet drink?” . They’re Wolves fans and they’re up from London, they go to every game. They tell me that there are branches of Wolves fans from London, Daventry and Cheltenham in the pub. I remark that they are all men of a ‘certain age’ and they laugh agreeing that if you haven’t got a bus pass you probably don’t follow Wolves.
A friend of mine, Mick, soon arrives and we talk of blood pressure, the Hairy Bikers, tielles, sciatica, this blog, holidaying in Corsica and Marseille and the difficulty of choosing where to visit from so many wonderful places across Europe. I drink a pint of Irvin Ruby (£3.60) and we both have a half of St Jude’s Darkest Blessings (£3.80 a pint), which is very strong (9.5%) but smooth and delicious with a hint of hazelnuts and vanilla.
All the Wolves fans have already left when we leave the pub at about a quarter to three, Mick heads home and I head for the match. It’s raining properly now. Whilst I may tire of the present incarnation of Football League Division Two, I never tire of the sight of

Portman Road with its proper floodlights at each corner and all the activity outside on match day as kick-off approaches, it’s what being is all about, especially when it’s raining. Martin Heidegger would have understood, although by all accounts he was a bit of a knob.
I pass through the turnstile and am approached by a steward who asks me about the photos I have taken out in Portman Road, I explain that they are for a blog and flick through a few of them for him. He seems happy with that, but I can’t imagine he knows what to say; what did he expect to see other than photos of Portman Road? I suppose my camera might have really been a water pistol, not a camera, I had one like that when I was about eight years old.
The teams are walking on to the pitch and in the stand I am surprised to find a man and a woman occupying my seat and the one next to it. They’re not doing anything rude, just sitting. I go and sit in the next seat along, I don’t care. One of them says something about not being able to see from their allocated seats and a steward had told them to sit anywhere where there was a space.
The game begins and it’s okay, a fairly even contest to start with and Town’s Callum Connolly has a shot after about 11 minutes. It only takes the Wolves fans eight minutes however to announce that “You’re support is fucking shit” and no one is arguing; no one even cares except perhaps for John Hughes who wrote the tune Cwm Rhondda; but that was in 1907, so he must be past caring by now. In the fifteenth minute it’s not only the support that is so scatalogically poor, as the Town defence dissolves into the rain, the ball is crossed and a bloke called Matt Doherty heads it unchallenged into the Town net; Wolverhampton Wanderers have, it turns out, won the match…and it had all started so well.
The Ipswich crowd do not react at all and make no effort to help raise their team’s game through vocal encouragement; I do though and throw myself into a few rounds of “Lo, lololo lolo, Allez les bleus” as Town win a couple of corners. There is not the slightest hint that anyone wants to join in with my efforts on behalf of the team and in a fit of pique I get up and leave my seat. I go to sit with Phil the ever-present supporter at the other end of the stand, who at least understands and will sometimes even join in with me, a bit.
The game carries on and Town play reasonably well in an unspectacular sort of a way, but Wolverhampton are good, they’re several points clear at the top of the league table and we are seeing why. A little short of 1,900 Wulfrunians are following their team today, but I’m a little disappointed by them. For a team who wear such a distinctive kit there is very little of the lovely old gold and black on display and they’re singing is mostly of a negative nature. But when I think I hear them sing “Wanky wanky, wanky wanky Southerners” to the tune of Chicory Tip’s ‘Son of my father’ it raises a smile, even though Ipswich is not in the South, it’s in the East. Bloody Brummies.
At half-time I stay where I am and enjoy the occasional drip of rain through the leaking roof on which I can see buddleia growing; I’m not sure that makes it a ‘green’ roof, but it’s a start. I have no half-time snack and don’t visit the toilet, but Phil does and I guard his bag whilst he’s gone. Town stalwart Tommy Smith appears on the pitch in a smart overcoat to say farewell to the crowd before he heads off to play for Colorado Rapids in Denver; he waves, I wave back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I then muse upon the names of the Wolverhampton team and feel strongly that Ivan Cavaleiro should be wearing a wide brimmed hat and a cape, or he should at least walk out onto the pitch in such attire, even if he doesn’t play in it. Wolverhampton Wanderers are owned by Guo Guangchang, one of China’s wealthiest people and in Helder Costa and Ruben Neves have the two most expensive players in League Division Two; midfielder Neves cost a colossal £15.8m and both players are clients of football agent Jorge Mendes who is an advisor to the club. Read more about Wolves’ attempt to buy success in the editorial to the February edition of the always excellent When Saturday Comes magazine.
The teams return, Phil returns and play resumes. Ipswich aren’t so good this half, I reckon Wolves have sussed us out and they control the game completely, because they have much better players, some of whom, as you now know have cost obscene amounts of money. They also have a manager called Nuno Espirito Santo who, with a name like that, you would always back against plain old Mick McCarthy. I have a theory that people voted to leave the EU mainly because they feel inferior to all these clever, stylish Europeans, and they are. Town have two new players in their team today, a free transfer called Gleeson and a thick-set monster of a man on-loan from Tottenham Hotspur, who rejoices under the seven syllables of the name Cameron Carter-Vickers. They do okay, but Bartosz Bialkowski is the star for Town as he makes a succession of essential saves to stop Wolverhampton scoring more goals. The Wulfrunians in the Cobbold Stand again sing coarsely of the execrable Ipswich support and look for the geography section of the library. Meanwhile, I continue to sing ‘Allez les Bleus’ very loudly and have a most enjoyable time. Singing is proven to be good for you and even though Town lose I am as happy as I can be given the pointlessness of it all. Watching Ipswich Town is what you make it.
The three minutes of added on time offer hope, but that’s all and soon the final chirrups sound from beneath the shiny and completely naked pate of referee Mr Simon Hooper. Unusually, I stand and applaud the teams today; all my singing has made me high as a kite.