Lincoln City 1 Ipswich Town 0

Games against Lincoln City are like buses are supposed to be, you don’t see one for ages and then a whole bunch of them come along almost at once. Of course things have moved on in Suffolk and nowadays you don’t see a bus for ages and then find out that the County Council have withdrawn financial support for it.  But that aside today is the seventh time Town have played the Imps in the past four years, having not played them previously since 15th of April 1961, and despite an absence of passengers or paying customers at Sincil Bank the game is still going ahead.

It’s a grey, overcast day, a dull end to the end of British Summertime and I have spent the morning half-watching live coverage of the Aussie Rules Grand Final between Richmond Tigers and Geelong Cats. The Cats are probably the under dogs, if that’s possible. I once stopped in Geelong for a cup of coffee and some food on a road trip from Melbourne and out along the Great Ocean Road, I also used to own a pet cat; these seem to me to be good enough reasons to be rooting for the Geelong Cats today.  My wife Paulene has an on-line subscription to watch every Aussie Rules game, every week of the season, and she is supporting Richmond.  Richmond win by 81 points to 50, but sportingly I join in Paulene’s celebration and share in the bottle of Crémant that I thoughtfully put in the fridge after breakfast.  Indeed, today my pre-match ‘pint’ is one of Crémant, which accompanies a light lunch of left over rice, salad and prosciutto.

Whilst Paulene switches her attention to the Giro d’Italia cycle race, I tune into Radio Suffolk on my trusty Sony transistor radio, plugging in the earpiece, and finely adjusting the dial to eliminate the hisses and crackles of the ether and Radio Essex just in time to hear a female voice handing over to Brenner Woolley and Alex Mathie in faraway Lincoln.  Brenner is quickly down to business asking Alex what he wants to see today; Alex is equally quick to tell us that he wants to see Town playing football in the attacking third of the pitch; thereby implying that he does not want to see the defence passing it aimlessly amongst themselves like they did at Doncaster Rovers last Tuesday in what could only euphemistically be called ‘building from the back’.  Meanwhile it sounds like Oasis are playing over the Sincil Bank PA system, but I could be wrong.

I didn’t watch or listen to the game at Doncaster on Tuesday, I’m not entirely sure why but I think it was the case that I simply couldn’t be bothered and preferred to sit and read a book.  Nevertheless, I was giving my support by wearing my button-collar blue T-shirt purchased on-line in the Planet Blue sale over the summer.  The T-shirt had previously not witnessed a Town defeat, but sadly by bedtime when I removed it from my rippling torso it had to be added to the huge pile of lucky garments that weren’t.

Back at Sincil Bank, or the LNER Stadium as the soulless lackeys of the capitalist system would now have us call it, Brenner helpfully describes how Town are wearing all blue whilst Lincoln wear red, black and red and are defending the goal off to Brenner and Alex’s left.  The reception on my Sony 310 transistor radio has become rather poor and I have to jiggle the radio about a bit whilst Brenner reveals that today’s referee is Mr Kevin Johnson.  The “ball runs to one of those red shirts” says Brenner, understandably unable to recognise the unfamiliar faces of the Lincoln players, although also suggesting to me at least that there could just be some red shirts strewn about the pitch.  Brenner fills his commentary with superfluous information about which clubs the Lincoln players have played for previously, where they went to school and what their first pets were.  Just three minutes have passed and it should be 1-0 to Lincoln.  “It’s all Lincoln just now” is Alex’s expert assessment.

Ipswich’s goal survives the opening minutes and our heroes work their way into the game a little more.  Both Brenner and Alex pronounce Lankester as Lancaster betraying their far northern heritage with their ugly short vowels; but they both now agree that it’s a good game.  “You’ve never seen them win here” says Brenner to Alex, and then in an attempt to feign positivity he adds “It’ll change this afternoon, fear not”.  He doesn’t fool me.

Oliver Hawkins seems to be playing well. “When the ball comes in, he’s made it stick” says Alex muddling his tenses and using a sort of glue metaphor to tell us that Hawkins can control a football.  The ball goes “…into the palms of Palmer the ‘keeper” says Brenner, becoming enjoyably playful with his words before sharing the important fact that there has never been a goalless draw between the two sides.

Twenty five minutes have passed. “There’s not a great deal happening at the moment” says Brenner.  Glancing through the living room window it looks like the world has started to melt.    “Rain!” shouts Paulene, and as one we dash out into the hall, through the Kitchen and into the back garden to rescue various socks, items of underwear and T-shirts from the rotary washing line, whilst I simultaneously hope I don’t miss a goal; happily I don’t.

A third of the match has now passed in to broadcasting history and Hawkins has a header cleared off the goal line. “He just rose and he’s hung in the air” says Alex taking one from the near the top of the pile of football commentating clichés, but sensibly eschewing any mention of salmon; it was “.. a phenomenal header” adds Brenner.  A minute later Hawkins shoots for goal and clears the stand; it sounds like it was a phenomenal shot.

Entering the final third of the first half Brenner refers to someone playing the ball with “his left shoe” and to Andre Dozzell getting “on his bike”, something Freddie Sears did in last Saturday’s match, and with Freddie not playing today I wonder if it’s the same bike or if each of the players has his own and if so how they all fit in the underfloor lockers of the team bus.  Does the presence of all the bikes mean that the kit has to be stowed on overhead luggage racks inside the bus?  Back in 1962 when Town won what is now called the Premier League, most of the players actually used their bikes to get to training each day.  Tsk, how times change, eh?

As the game drifts towards half-time, play has apparently stopped and there is talk of a drop ball and neither Brenner nor Alex seem to know exactly what is going on, or how we got into this situation, whatever the situation is.  It’s a most disconcerting few seconds of my life; it’s bad enough not really knowing what’s happening anyway when one listens to a radio commentary, but when the commentators don’t either it feels I’m like falling into a dark abyss, or at the very least being locked in the cupboard under the stairs.  It’s a relief when the action returns to my ears, although all too soon I feel my heart leap as Brenner’s voice suddenly rises in pitch and volume and Lincoln City’s Brennan Johnson surges into the penalty area, but thankfully shoots past Tomas Holy’s right hand goal post.  The half closes with Alex Mathie giving us his assessment that the game “deserves a goal,” although I’d argue that virtue is its own reward.

Over half-time I relocate from the living room to the Ikea Poang chair in the ‘back bedroom’ because I am struggling to concentrate on the finer points of Brenner and Alex’s commentary whilst also still able to hear the commentary of the Giro d’Italia cycle race on the telly.  I try out the kitchen first but for some unfathomable reason the radio reception there just isn’t good enough. I put the kettle on and make tea for Paulene but forget to pour a cup for myself.  Evidently under stress, but not knowing it , I settle down in the Poang to hear Alex conclude that it was an even first half but that “…Lincoln just shaded it with chances” before predicting that “whoever gets the first goal is likely to go on and win the game”, which suggests that neither team is very good ‘up front’.   At three minutes past four “Nolan rolls the ball back to Wilson” and the second half begins.  Town are now playing, Brenner tells us, towards the end at which little Alan Judge scored the winning goal in the FA Cup last season.  Disappointingly Brenner fails to mention the towers of the Gothic cathedral that can be seen up on the hill beyond the roof of the Stacey West stand but in his defence , he does mention the Lincoln City player with the “Alice band keeping his blond hair in place”.  Radio commentary is all about painting a picture with words.

I look at Twitter and catch up on the FA Cup scores at Leiston (drawing 2-2 with Barnet), and at Banbury where Bury Town are winning 1-0.  It’s nearly twenty past four now and Brenner again raises the question of whether this game could be the first ever goalless draw between Town and Lincoln City.  There is clearly little sign of there being a goal at Sincil Bank, which incidentally is one of my favourite names of any Football League ground; let’s hope the club’s custodians never think it’s a good idea to move elsewhere.

Back in the commentary box it sounds like Brenner and Alex are about to argue. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have thanks to Twitter but I think that perhaps contrary to Brenner’s view Alex is trying to say that Town have had a good start to the second half “Are you admonishing me , Alex?” says Brenner. “No I’m trying to convince myself” replies Alex climbing down.  It’s the most exciting moment of the half so far. 

The game dribbles on; Brenner predicts that Lincoln’s Liam Bridcutt is heading for a yellow card as a result of a number of niggly fouls that “…he has committed since 3 o’clock”, from which I infer that Brenner thinks he may have been committing fouls before 3 o’clock too.  Bridcutt is not booked, although he was booked at Fleetwood the previous Saturday, so Brenner was right.   

It is thirty-three minutes past four and all of sudden Alex Mathie provides an object lesson to all co-commentators in how to sound exasperated.  “ You don’t need to do that…” says Alex before seemingly being struck speechless as Toto Nsiala nudges over Brennan Johnson, and Mr Kevin Johnson the referee, perhaps taking a lead from Boris Johnson about awarding honours and contracts to your friends and now it seems namesakes, awards a penalty to Lincoln City.   Brenner picks up the commentary from the stupified Alex, and Jorge Grant scores.  “He doesn’t miss many when he takes them” says a recovered Alex, devising an odd variation on that motivational poster nonsense about always missing 100% of the shots you don’t take.

“I’d like to see it again Brenner” says Alex to his colleague about the penalty, as if this is something that Brenner has the power to arrange.  We now have a female Dr Who, so in the interests of diversity why not a Time Lord who has a side line commentating on Town matches. Keanan Bennetts replaces Jack Lankester with ten minutes remaining and then the game expands into four minutes of added-on time.  In the fifth minute of added-on time Jon Nolan is shown a “straight red” for a foul on Lincoln’s Harry Anderson and Brenner’s and Alex’s commentary sends me tumbling into the  darkness once again, they don’t seem to know what is going on, or prudishly won’t tell me.   It sounds like there is a punch up, which judging by the rest of the commentary of this half is the most exciting thing that has happened all afternoon, but the detail in the commentary is sadly lacking.  I am sat in my Poang wanting to know who is pushing who and who’s restraining who from doing what, but all Brenner tells me is that both goalkeepers are involved; but involved in what? Throwing punches? Kicking opposition players? Kicking their team mates?  Wrestling people to the ground?  Pulling faces? Flicking v-signs?  “Frustration, that’s all it is” says Alex. I know how they feel.

The game ends and I rather wish I hadn’t bothered, but heck what else is there to do on a Saturday afternoon than pretend I’m at a football match. I wonder if there’s any of that Cremant left.

Bristol Rovers 0 Ipswich Town 2

The infection rate for Covid-19 is on the rise again and I am staying home, even though it’s Saturday and the prospect of either AFC Sudbury v Coggeshall Town in the Isthmian League or Ipswich Wanderers v Brantham Athletic in the qualifying round of the FA Vase is deeply enticing.  But my wife Paulene is in the extremely vulnerable category due to chronic asthma and given many people’s apparent inability to comprehend social distancing or the wearing of a mask I’m not taking any chances.  

After six months I have got used to this and my reality now is that football is a game witnessed on the television or followed on the radio, which sadly means non-league games are just results and all the footballers I get to watch are overpaid professionals.  But I can still follow the mighty Ipswich Town home and away, and because I would resent being charged ten quid for watching an hour and a half’s telly, I shall be listening to today’s match on the wireless, as I like to call it.

Today, the ritual of the pre-match pint is partly a reward for a morning of productive pottering in the garden, although it’s actually a pre-match 440 millilitres in the form of a can of Adnams Ghostship (four for £5.25 from Waitrose). It’s such a beautiful afternoon that I decide to take advantage of the weather and listen to the game outside whilst bathed in soft September sunlight. Tuning into Radio Suffolk doesn’t prove as easy as I had expected and by the time I have made fine adjustments to the dial and the physical position of the radio itself in order to shut out brash, ill-mannered Radio Essex and its impending commentary on Colchester United v Bolton Wanderers, the game is about to begin.  I feel like I am twelve years old again, trying to find Radio Caroline and Radio North Sea International on my tiny Vesta V70 transistor radio (about £2 from Woolworth’s) in the early 1970’s.

As ever, Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley is the man (it’s never been a woman) to relay his commentary to an eager county of football fans.  But by way of a change Brenner is assisted today, not by the regular, dependable, steady Mick Mills, but by one of Town’s few 21st century heroes, Marcus Stewart, a man almost as famous for his goals as his gloves, a replica pair of which I am proud to still own, despite their being pretty much unwearable.  I first take notice of the commentary as an early Gwion Edwards header is easily saved by Bristol Rovers’ Finnish ‘keeper Anssi Jaakola. “What about that chance Marcus?” asks Brenner; he receives no response, it’s as if Marcus just isn’t listening or has drifted off into a world of his own; perhaps he’s bored already.  “He should have done better shouldn’t he, Marcus?” adds Brenner sounding a tiny bit anxious.  Fortunately for Brenner, Marcus returns from wherever he’s been and gives some answer or other; I have drifted off a bit myself now and am listening to the chimes of a passing ice cream van, “Boys and girls come out to play” is the jangly, distorted tune that the loudspeakers are blaring out.  I love ice cream van chimes, they make me think of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Something wicked this way comes”.

In the absence of any decent football to commentate on, Brenner tells us that the Town have had to change for the match today in the supporters’ club bar, which is something that would have been far too risky to have allowed back in the seventies or eighties if the reputations of some former players are to be believed.  Brenner continues by commenting on Paul Lambert having adopted what he calls a “Tony Pulis look”, by which he means his blue baseball cap, not a sour facial expression, although he can do that as well.

Some football happens and Brenner describes the player with the ball as “running into traffic”, which sounds a little bizarre and suggests Bristol Rovers need a new stadium more than most.  It’s now just after half past three and there is a drinks break which sounds as exciting as the game.  With everyone refreshed nothing seems to improve however, but Marcus raises his game making reference to “big Devon White”, the towering centre forward who scored twice for Bristol Rovers in a 3-3 draw with Town back in August 1991.  On his debut, Marcus scored the other goal for Rovers in that match, but seems reassuringly modest about his career, allowing the modern players credit and telling us how difficult many skills are to perfect, and it sounds like the two teams are demonstrating the proof of that today.

Half-time looms and Marcus tells us that “Both teams are not fluid”.  “They’re not, are they” says Brenner as if he really means “No, they’re crap aren’t they”.

I use the half-time break to talk to my wife Paulene who is watching the Tour de France on the telly in the kitchen, it beats flitting down the steps to the gents underneath the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and staring up at the half-time scores on the screens in the under croft of the stand.  The respite from the game is all too brief and I’m soon sat at the garden table once again and Brenner reveals that Thomas Holy is “off to our right”.  In the first half I had drawn a little sketch plan of the pitch which I tried to use to keep track of where the ball was, but my plan was scuppered because I realised I didn’t know towards which end Town were kicking.  Interestingly, (perhaps) the very first BBC radio commentary for a match (Arsenal v Sheffield United in Division One on 22nd January 1927) used a system whereby the pitch was divided up into eight squares and the commentator Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam described the game whilst a co-commentator said which square the ball was in; a diagram showing the football pitch divided up into squares was printed in that week’s Radio Times.  I think Mick Mills has the perfect delivery for telling us what square the ball is in.

It’s five minutes past four and Brenner carefully describes the two teams’ kits as the second half gets underway; it’s a job well done and all Ipswich Town nerds will quickly realise that the red and blue ‘third kit’ has now been used three seasons running.  Nine minutes later and Brenner is perhaps more excited than he should be as he reveals that Norwood should have scored, although it would have been disallowed.  Marcus by contrast remains calm, I can only think he spotted the offside flag before Brenner.

Town seem to be on top now and at four- twenty two Brenner’s voice suddenly becomes louder and his words get closer together. “Edwards with a great chance!” he says, followed by silence.  I guess that he didn’t score.  Freddie Sears is replaced by Jack Lankester and a procession of Town players’ names follows over the airwaves as they take it in turns to get caught offside.

Time has moved on to half-past four and Brenner’s voice rises again in pitch and in volume. Nolan has a shot we are told and for a moment I think it’s a goal, it sounded like it must be, but no, it’s a corner.  A minute later and “Edwards goes round the goalkeeper!”, again I think we’ve scored, but no, it’s blocked on the line and Paulene sits down next to me to eat some crisps and Parma ham because she hasn’t eaten any lunch. 

Time is moving on apace; this is a good half for Town and Brenner’s voice is up and down in tempo and volume as he tries to convey what would be the waves of excitement if there was a crowd watching this game. It’s nearly twenty to five and Gwion Edwards shoots for goal again and then a minute later there’s a cross from Jack Lankester; a moment’s doubt from Brenner “It might be an own goal?” and indeed it transpires that Rovers’ German centre-half Max Ehmer has scored in his own team’s net, which is nice.   Marcus Stewart immediately starts a philosophical argument in my mind as he relates that the goal had been coming for the past twenty minutes.  I muse that had he been watching the game or listening on the wireless like me, the sixteenth century French theologian John Calvin might well have argued that it had been coming since the dawn of time, with all our fates being pre-ordained by God.  It’s not something Marcus picks up on and Brenner merely adds that after some earlier ‘last ditch defending’ from Bristol Rovers, this time it’s a goal.

There’s an interlude of sorts as Marcus Stewart expounds a theory that Jack Lankester should be awarded the goal if his cross was heading into the goal before Ehmer headed it; it’s not a wholly unreasonable proposition except that no one suggested Lankester’s cross was going towards the goal and the whole incident implies that once again Marcus may not have been paying full attention.  It’s a quarter to five and thirty years ago the game would have been over by now, but today there’s still time for the boy Dozzell to elicit the words “Lovely ball”  from the mouth of Brenner, and for Town substitute Ollie Hawkins to miss the goal, before quite suddenly I hear “ Here come Town;  Nolan, shoots, and finds the corner of the net”.  It sounds like it’s 2-0 to Town.  Brenner sounds less excited than he did when all those shots went wide earlier in the game, but eventually confirms that Town have “…strung together back to back victories”.

The referee Mr Hicks who thankfully has barely featured in Brenner and Marcus’s commentary calls time and the game is over.  I quickly turn off the radio to avoid being subjected to the stupidity of the post-match phone-in.  I have enjoyed my afternoon in my back garden in the sunshine and feel a curious ‘simpatico’ with my dead father, who would listen to cricket test matches on the radio on similar sunny afternoons.  Thinking back over the past hour and fifty minutes or so of radio commentary I have been consumed by the thoughts and descriptions from Brenner Woolley and Marcus Stewart, my one reservation being the illogical and groundless worry that every time Brenner Woolley said the name Marcus he was addressing Marcus Evans.

Ipswich Town 0 Coventry City 1

Last night I went to a ‘gig’ in a very small music venue in Chelmsford called the Hot Box.  My friend Pete, who has never really got over being eighteen, invited me to see a ‘Psyche Rock’ band from Glasgow called Helicon, he thought I’d like them because some of their songs feature a sitar and I’m a sucker for a sitar, so he thought right.  It was when sitting in the bar chatting and listening to the trains rumble overhead (Hot Box is inside two railway viaduct arches) that we couldn’t help but notice all the reproductions of classic album covers of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that plaster the walls, and Pete spotted that for the Only Ones’ eponymous album released in 1978, my favourite year. Today I have realised how the lyrics to the Only Ones’ Another Girl, Another Planet describe my relationship with Ipswich Town “You get under my skin, I don’t find it irritating”.

Today the sky is blue with a hint of wispy cloud.  I stepped out of my back door a bit earlier and it felt flippin’ freezing; so, it is cloaked in a thick woolly jumper, overcoat and muffler that I set off for the railway station having flagrantly ignored the threat of COVID-19 and kissed my wife goodbye. The train arrives on time and the twelve minute walk has left me hot and a bit sweaty; life is not always what you expect. Naturally, the sun is shining in Ipswich and behind the Station Hotel in its beer garden the scarves and shirts of Coventry City fans mimic the colour of the sky; surreally the Eton Boating Song drifts up over the pub car park and the murky waters of the River Orwell, I half expect to see Boris Johnson and his cronies burning £50 notes in front of the rough sleepers who doss down at the front of the railway station.

In Portman Road the six-wheel, slate grey Coventry City team bus arrives at the same time as me, but the bus reverses into Portman Road, turns round and is re-directed to the Constantine Road entrance. Unlike the coach driver I know exactly where I’m going and walk on through, past a man who appears to have a metal bollard stuck up his anus, and the usual pre-match panorama of people munching low-grade meat product between slabs of low grade bread product.  The flags on the Cobbold Stand fly strongly in the breeze and I walk on towards St Matthews Street and St Jude’s Tavern where Mick is already a good way through a pint of Iceni Brewery Partridge Walk (£2.50).  I buy a pint of the same and once sat down we discuss the end of my phased return to work after illness, our weight , today’s team selection and, after Mick reveals how he can’t stand people going on and on about their dogs, dogs. Neither of us owns a dog but I used to have two Lurchers called Alfie and Larry, until they were put down.  I drink another pint of Partridge Walk whilst Mick sinks a Jamieson’s whisky and with fifteen minutes or so until kick-off we depart with the licensee wishing us luck as we don our coats.

Turnstile 5 is my portal into another world today and as usual I smile and thank the operator for letting me through. With bladders drained and hands washed Mick and I take our seats, stepping over them from the row behind so as not to inconvenience Pat from Clacton who is already ensconced at the end of the row.  Of course ever-present Phil who never misses a game is here too, along with his young son Elwood and there’s a welcome return of the old dears (Doug and Sheila) who used to sit behind me but now sit in front of me; the only absentee is once again the man with the Brylcreemed hair; that’s two games on the trot he’s not been here, I fear we may have ‘lost’ him and Pat from Clacton says as much.  I won’t miss him, I found his thick hair furrowed with Brylcreem somewhat distracting.

The two teams soon emerge from the shiny, blue, plastic tunnel and Crazee the mascot waves his flag like Liberty leading the people in Eugene Delacroix’s painting. “L’étendard sanglant est levé” I sing to myself, in my head, whilst wishing this game was in Ligue 1 and not League One.  The sky is no longer blue, but grey and cloudy.  The game begins and Ipswich are wearing their customary lovely royal blue shirts and socks with white shorts whilst our guests Coventry are in a somewhat avant garde ensemble of white shirts with a black and white chequered band across the chest, black shorts and white socks; they look as though they are either the 2-Tone Records works’ team or the Metropolitan Police, but it’s quite smart in a un-football-kit-like sort of way. The 2-Tone connection is in fact used to market the kit and in my mind I take things a step further imagining the players on the team bus all in dark suits, pencil ties and pork-pie hats before stepping off the bus in a line like Madness or skanking to The Selecta.  If Ipswich Town was to go for a dress style based on that of a famous, local, popular music artist the players would have to have haircuts like a 1980’s Nik Kershaw, and indeed Frank Yallop did.

Five minutes pass and Town’s Jon Nolan falls theatrically in the penalty area, it’s a blatant dive and I express my disgust with outspread arms and disbelieving expression whilst those around me bay for a penalty.  Town looked okay for a short while, but Coventry are now dominating possession and seem like they have a plan. Up in the Cobbold Stand the Coventry supporters sing Tom Hark (originally a Ska song by Elias and his Zig-Zag Ji-flutes, but not on 2-Tone) and something about ‘going up’, which my ears won’t let me decipher.  The away following today is impressive, even if their annunciation is poor; we will later learn that there are 1,740 of them and in forty-nine years of coming to Portman Road I have never seen so many Coventry City supporters, but then this is the first time in forty-nine years that a Coventry team has come to Portman Road that is at the top of or even anywhere near the top of a league.  These people have been very patient, their team having previously only ever been models of mediocrity, although most Town fans would kill for a bit of mediocrity right now.

As seagulls soar overhead and perch on the cross girder of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand roof, Coventry win the game’s first corner, but the ball is sent directly behind the goal line. The match looks like being one of attrition, but then Coventry score; the uninspiringly named Matt Godden turning very cleverly and shooting inside the far post. No one saw that coming, least of all Luke Chambers and his chums in the Ipswich back-four. Fifteen minutes have passed. “Super, Super Matt” sing the Coventry fans as if advertising a local launderette, but then clarifying the matter by adding “Super Matty Godden”, all to the tune of Skip to My Lou.

The Sir Bobby Robson stand, who had been in reasonable voice fall quiet and the pall of gloom that had seemingly been blown out to sea after the defeat to Fleetwood on Tuesday returns.  “Fucking dog shit this” opines the roughly spoken gentleman behind me.  “Fuckin’ sums it all up” he continues, as a Town player is out-jumped for the ball, “How was he beaten in the air? He’s not even trying to win the fuckin’ ball”.  Pat from Clacton rolls her eyes at the coarseness of the language whilst owning up to me that she sometimes says “shit”.

On 28 minutes a ball drops over the top of the Coventry defence and Town’s Jon Nolan is on to it with just Coventry’s Slovakian goalkeeper Marko Marosi between him and glory. Nolan opts for abuse as he tamely heads the ball into the goalkeeper’s hands. “We’re gonna win the League” sing the Coventry supporters, sounding a little unsure of the words, having never sung them before this season.   Half an hour has passed and the wonderfully named referee, Trevor Kettle, whistles for a foul on Town’s Teddy Bishop and then gives his yellow card its first airing of the afternoon, brandishing it in the direction of the perpetrator Liam Walsh.  Town win their first corner five minutes later and Luke Woolfenden’s shot is sent wide of the goal.  It’s nearly half-time and seizing their opportunity to deliver ironic humour as Town supporters head for the toilets, the Coventry fans sing “Is this a library?” Time enough remains for Nolan to be through on goal again and send his shot over the cross bar and a few rows behind me some unusually posh sounding people talk to one another very loudly ,as posh people often do, about something completely unrelated to football.

Half -time brings boos for Trevor ‘The Whistle’ Kettle as he leaves the pitch with his two side-kicks in their unpleasant yellowy-green tops and the air is one of despondency.  Mick asks if I thought we should have had a penalty near the beginning when Nolan went down; I tell him I can’t remember the incident. “Well, you were very animated at the time” says Mick, and then I remember and have to explain that actually I was annoyed that Nolan had dived.  I speak with Ray who bemoans the absence of decent full-backs at the club and the fact that once again the goal Town conceded came down the left hand side of the pitch.

At 16:04 the second half begins, but the blokes behind don’t return for a good few minutes; they don’t miss much and we don’t miss them.  As time passes inexorably it becomes apparent that the second half is better than the first from a Town supporting perspective, we have more of the ball anyway, which makes it feel like we’re doing okay.  Godden misses a good opportunity to confirm the win for Coventry, but otherwise his team doesn’t look that much better than ours, just a bit more confident due to a fortunate habit of winning rather than an unfortunate one of losing.  Pat from Clacton tells me that she’s going to Yarmouth next weekend for a week of playing whist, but she’ll be back on the Friday, the day before the Portsmouth game.   She won £28 last year.

An hour of football has passed and as he turns towards goal Town’s Freddie Sears is hacked down by Coventry’s Kyle Macfadzean who is consequently booked by Mr Kettle, who I imagine must have asked “Would you spell that please” as he reached for his pencil and his notebook. With the help of her compact Sony camera and its zoom lens Pat confirms that Ed Sheeran’s is here again today and she snaps him. I tell her that I saw on Twitter that Rick Wakeman is here too, and she gets a really good picture of him in the directors’ box, in which he’s looking right down the camera.   Watch out for the Patarazzi.  Pat’s sister Jill wins the guess the crowd competition on the Clacton supporters’ bus.  “Oh please let them score” entreats Pat as another cross is sent into the Coventry penalty area, but the team is in need of some luck and Pat gets out the masturbating monkey charm who introduced himself at the Fleetwood game; she rubs his head but nothing happens.  I learn that the monkey actually came from Cambodia, not Vietnam as I said before.

Neither Mick nor Pat from Clacton, nor I notice how many minutes of added time there are, so engrossed are we in the match and so strongly are we willing Town to score, but at 16:53 Mr Kettle whistles for the last time and it’s all over bar the booing, of which, thankfully, there isn’t as much as there was on Tuesday.  Pat from Clacton and ever-present Phil and who never misses a game and Elwood make a sharp exit for their respective coach and car but Mick and I stay to applaud the team.  They haven’t all played well, but we don’t doubt that they tried to, who doesn’t want to do their best except nihilists and they probably want to be good at being nihilists.  If we don’t applaud them that can only make them feel worse; we’re Supporters, it’s what we do.  Something tells me the masturbating monkey would say it’s just fate.

Ipswich Wanderers v Kirkley & Pakefield : Framlingham Town v March Town United

Ipswich Wanderers v Kirkley & Pakefield

After four consecutive matches at Portman Road it comes as something of a relief this Saturday to be able to go elsewhere to see a game. I am nevertheless completing what has become an habitual journey to Ipswich, but today it is to see one of the town’s other two senior football teams. Ipswich Wanderers are in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties Premier League, but if they carry on their form of the season so far, they won’t be for much longer; they currently sit second from bottom in the league table.
I am following Ipswich Wanderers’ Twitter account just in case of last minute cancellations and this proves a very wise move because I now learn that the game has been postponed because of storm damage to the stadium on Thursday when it was so windy that I was unable to get to work. Today it is lashing it down with rain, but I have come to Ipswich to visit my mum anyway, and seeing as I’m now half way there I decide to head on into deepest darkest Suffolk to watch Framlingham Town v March Town United in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Division One.
Framlingham Town v March Town United
At 2:15 I check that the game is still on and it is and I depart into the drab, wet countryside towards Tuddenham and on to Otley, to Cretingham, Earl Soham and Saxtead. It’s a journey along narrow roads between hedges and ditches, past the thick tilled, sodden soil of broad rolling fields, beneath dripping, black, leafless trees and through small floods. Mine seems to be the only car on the road out here. It’s cold and the rain on the windscreen thickens into sleet. Eventually after a half an hour I reach Framlingham and Badingham Road where Framlingham Town play; as I turn into the track that leads to the sports ground another car is leaving and the first doubts surface in my mind. The car park is mostly empty but I park up anyway and as I do so a group of people walk from the turnstiles towards the cars that are alongside me. I lean across the front seat and open the passenger window: I’m not getting out in this rain. I ask a blond woman “Is it off?” . She confirms that it is, but quickly adds that the game at Woodbridge is still on. I must look a little shocked or disgusted as she quickly adds “If you want to see a game”. I smile and thank her and again shut the weather out of my car.
I decide not to watch Woodbridge Town because they are only playing Leiston reserves, and I don’t approve of reserve teams playing in the Eastern Counties league, and so I head home down the A12. Naturally I’m disappointed, but late postponement is a feature of non-league football, it helps to confirm that it is just a game and it was a helluva drive through the bleakly beautiful and slightly threatening looking, but mostly muddy Suffolk countryside. I’ll be back.

Coggeshall Town 6 Fakenham Town 1

 

If I had remained completely true to my existential, celebrate-the-mundane self, this piece might be entitled “Halstead Town versus Swaffham Town match postponed due to a frozen pitch” and would be a description of how I came to follow Halstead Town football club on Twitter and discovered that the match I had intended to watch this afternoon would not take place.  It would not have been a long piece and I might even have just written it.  But games get postponed and life goes on and so I looked for another game to watch and the nearest one to my home address is in West Street, Coggeshall, also known as ‘The Crops’, although I will be disappointed to discover that the sign announcing that no longer adorns the side of the changing rooms.

It is a cold, still December day; not bitterly cold, more penetratingly cold, although my hearty optimism and excitement at the thought of going to a match easily quench the thought of getting a little chilly as I set out on the three mile drive from my house.  Diving off the A120 into Coggeshall I motor past the Co-op where later I will buy some corned beef, milk, beer, Muscovado sugar and dairy free chocolate, the latter being for my dairy intolerant spouse. In the centre of town a bus is turning right to head past the ground on its way to Braintree; a pang of guilt hits me; I could have used public transport, there is a bus stop at the bottom of my garden; but then I couldn’t have popped into the Co-op.  Emerging from down-town Coggeshall and its fine collection of timber-framed buildings, the football ground is on the left and I park up at the front of the site taking care not to back my Citroen C3 into an Audi behind me, despite my dislike of ostentatious automobiles.

There seem to be few if any people heading towards Coggeshall Town football ground this afternoon, although it is barely twenty to three, and entering the ship-lap clad wooden turnstile block is a lonely experience.  But the turnstile operator is a cheery fellow and   greets me like a long lost friend, almost to the extent that I want to ask, “Do I know you?”, but that would seem a bit rude and to be honest I have a very poor memory for faces. I join in with the bonhomie therefore and then offer a fresh ten pound note for the admission and a programme (£1). “Are you, are you…….er, normal?” asks my new friend clearly struggling desperately for the right words to ask if I might qualify for the concessionary price.   “Yes, I‘m normal” I say hopefully, understanding that he means I pay the full price (£6).  He apologises, explaining that some people get upset if you ask them for the full price when they qualify for the concession because they are old bastards.  I reply that I understand, and I do.   The bloke at the turnstile goes on to tell me that the clubhouse is open and so is the tea bar at the side; he is not  just a turnstile operator he’s a concierge.

Having paid my entrance money I linger just beyond the turnstile taking in the view of the pitch and countryside beyond from the concrete path that leads to the club house.  It’s a beautiful sight.  I move on and recovering from the disappointment that ‘The Crops’ sign is no longer on the side of the changing rooms I find that the clubhouse has been renovated since I was last here, the exterior having been covered in modish cladding and there are glass doors adorned with the club crest; the interior is updated in similar fashionable materials, there is also an area of decking outside; it all seems a bit like a holiday village rather than a football ground, but then I grew up in the 1960’s and fondly recall pubs having outside toilets, as did my grandmother’s council house.  Stepping outside again I explore the low stand behind the goal and look at the pitch side

advertisement hoardings; it seems that everywhere I go an undertaker sponsors the local club.  I am also impressed that there is an advertisement for a maker of sash windows; no doubt a busy man given Coggeshall’s many old buildings.  I then meet my next door neighbour’s son Sam who is here with a bunch of mates from school; he tells me his dad his here too and he’s not having me on.  Paul my neighbour is enjoying a hot drink and after watching the teams file down on to the pitch and saying hello to a man called James, who plays guitar and used to work for Crouch Vale brewery, I join him as we wait for the first half to begin.   As the teams line up and the coaches occupy their benches, he tells me that one of the track-suited blokes in the dug-out is Ollie Murs, who I understand is a singer, popular with modern day teeny boppers.   I’m sure he is no Johnny Hallyday nevertheless.  Repose en paix Johnny.

Coggeshall kick off the game in the general direction of Braintree, wearing red and black striped shirts with back shorts whilst their guests from faraway Fakenham wear white shirts and blue shorts and have the name Macron above the numbers on the backs, sadly not because they all share the surname of the French president but because the shirts are manufactured by a company called Macron. Coggeshall look very much like the home team, by which I mean they dominate the attacking play, which is no surprise given that they are second in the league table and Fakenham fourth from bottom.  My neighbour tells me that Coggeshall’s star striker gets £300 a week and £50 a goal; I have no way of knowing if this is true, but if it is it doesn’t seem right or fair in a league in which most clubs struggle to attract an average crowd of one-hundred; but apparently he‘s not playing today anyway.

The early part of the game is not brilliant to watch and I am as interested by the sky, the trees,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA an old man poking his head into the tea bar and the lads lined up behind the Fakenham goal as I am by what happens on the pitch; my neighbour refers to the lads behind the goal as ‘herberts’, doubtless because his son is amongst them, although his son’s name is Sam.  Coggeshall ought to score because they clearly have the better players, but at about twenty minutes past three a cross drops at the far post and the ball is side-footed high into the Coggeshall goal net to give ‘The Ghosts’, for that is their nickname, an unexpected lead.  Predictably perhaps the goal shames Coggeshall into action and within five minutes they equalise; an unchallenged header drifting past the static goalkeeper and inside the post.  Thereafter Coggeshall dominate and play some pretty passing football, but ultimately a lack of true team play prevents them from registering the goals their superior ability suggests they should score.  I take a walk around the pitch seeking a different perspective.  Fakenham move forward and from behind the Coggeshall goal I overhear a conversation between Coggeshall’s number two, a big man with blond highlights in his already blond hair and the goalkeeper: “ I nearly put it out for a fucking corner” says the full-back “ I Know, fuck me” Says the goal keeper.   Half-time arrives and the score is 1-1.

I head to the tea-bar and buy a pounds worth of tea in the hope that it will fortify me against the deepening chill.  Where I have not worn my gloves in order to snap photos, my hands now feel like pins are being driven beneath my finger nails.  The cold has recognised that my thermal socks are a worthy opponent and has by-passed them to go up my trouser leg beyond the top of the socks to penetrate my shin bones.  My neighbour eats an enormous sausage roll (£3.50) that Captain Scott would have coveted and the tea possibly saves my life or at least prevents frost-bite.  I check the half-time scores and am disappointed by the news from Middlesbrough that Ipswich are losing 1-0, although the fact that the Danish, former Toulouse striker  Martin Braithwaite scored the goal, softens the blow because I spotted him as a talent a few years ago,

Half-time over, I take up a seat in the low main stand because my back is aching and also because, frankly, I sometimes enjoy my own company.   To my right five blokes in their late sixties or seventies discuss the score. One of them, a jowly man wearing a bobble hat is adamant that the score is 2-1and the others don’t seem confident enough in the memory of their own observations to tell him he is wrong.  Eventually, a young woman wearing large glasses confirms that the score is 1-1 and I back her up.  Oddly, within seconds, Coggeshall score a second goal to really make the score 2-1 and then quickly add a third as Fakenham fail to successfully make the transition from the dressing room to the pitch.

With not an hour gone, the game is as good as won for Coggeshall, nickname The Seedgrowers, which gives the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the disappearing daylight.  A bank of cloud on the horizon denies us a spectacular sunset but instead givesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the appearance of a mountain range looming up in the distance like the Pyrenees over Languedoc.  Whilst waiting for a fourth Coggeshall goal the old blokes behind me discuss the imminent changes to the fifth and sixth steps of the non-league pyramid and I ponder the fact that Coggeshall’s number eleven appears to have one white leg and one black leg.  This is no doubt due to a knee brace, but it leads me to imagine the implications of mixed race people literally being half black and half white.   The number eleven is a busy, energetic little player but embarrasses himself by finding space on the flank and calling to a team mate with the ball “Feed me, feed me”.  I am reminded of the plant in the ”Little Shop of Horrors”, but the number eleven has the good grace to glance into the crowd looking a little embarrassed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbove the glow of the floodlights the sky is midnight blue, but It’s only just gone twenty past four.  Coggeshall add a fourth goal, and then at four-thirty the Seedgrowers’ number ten scores the best goal of the game as he lofts the ball in a graceful arc over the goalkeeper from just outside the penalty area.   Fakenham respond with some substitutions and bring on a large bald man who looks like a Turkish wrestler and two much slimmer and younger players, one of whom looks like his shirt number is the same as his age, fourteen.   Despite there being no doubt about the eventual result, the match remains competitive, which manifests itself in sustained shouts and calls amongst the players which ring out coarsely in the cold winter air.   There are also some very entertaining tackles, which the frighteningly clean-cut referee Mr Farmer rewards with yellow cards, but they give the crowd and players something to bray about.  It’s now five minutes to five and everyone is thinking about going home as a low cross finds the Coggeshall number ten Ross Wall free at the far post and the ball is slammed low into the net, thumping the board behind the goal with the hollow thud more usually heard when the ball misses the goal and hits the advertising hoardings; I find it slightly disorientating, but heck, it’s 6-1 and Ross Wall has a hat-trick.

Mr Farmer soon blows his whistle for the last time today and a sated crowd of 108 disperse into the club house or out into the car park and the early evening.  Having zig-zagged my way through the emptying seats of the stand I pause and speak again with Jimmy who is now with his wife, and then head for the Co-op.