Ipswich Town 4 Charlton Athletic 0

Today is the last day of the season in the English third division, and in common with every last day of the season for about the past twenty years it doesn’t matter much if Ipswich Town play today’s game or not.  In 2019 Town had already been relegated by the time what is often thought of as this auspicious day arrived, but usually, like today, Town are becalmed in mid-table mediocrity with no fear of relegation and no hope of promotion.  Ours is the club that would confound Rudyard Kipling and his poem ‘If’; we neither meet with triumph nor disaster, so what else can we do but treat them both the same. According to Kipling they are both imposters so perhaps what we encounter is reality and may be therefore we’d better get used to it.  But of course, next season is going to be different, Keiran McKenna is the messiah and so we approach today not with dull resignation, but with hope and new found belief, even though it’s a pesky 12.30 kick-off.

The one saving grace of the early start for today’s game is that my walk down through Gippeswyk Park is enchanting, serenaded as I am with sweet birdsong and bathed with soft spring morning sunlight.  The tide is high as I cross the Sir Bobby Robson bridge on which a banner reads “Champions of England, back in ‘62”. The heavy stench of body sprays and perfumes falls from the open windows of the Pentahotel.  In Sir Alf Ramsey Way I stop to buy a programme (£3.50) in the modern cashless manner and a Turnstile Blue fanzine with an ‘old-fashioned’ pound coin. Reaching the Arbor House pub (formerly The Arboretum) the front door is invitingly open and having stepped inside I order a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.90) before going out back into the garden where Mick is already nursing a pint of the same fine beer along with a cup of dry-roasted peanuts.   We talk of planning permissions, Mick’s discovery that he has vertigo and what has and hasn’t happened since we last met, which seems long ago, before the Cambridge game back on 2nd April.  We are interrupted by a telephone call from Mick’s son who it transpires will be attending a four day, all expenses paid conference in Paris; it’s alright for some, although he does have to make a presentation. Checking our watches at five past twelve we decide it’s time to leave for the match; I return our glasses and the empty cup that once contained peanuts to the bar, which is also now empty.

In Sir Alf Ramsey Way Mick and I part ways as he secures his bike and heads for the posh seats of the West Stand and I make for the cheap seats near the front of what used to be ‘Churchmans’. Entering the hallowed halls of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand through turnstile number 60 I thank the overweight turnstile operator and am soon stood in a row with other men before a stainless-steel trough.  The man next to me is gushing forcefully against the steel and I shuffle as far away as I can for fear of unpleasant splashback.  Washing my hands, I am greeted by Kevin who I know from our previous mutual involvement with Wivenhoe Town; he tells me how much he enjoys this blog, which is kind of him.

Up in the stand, Pat from Clacton, Fiona, ever-present Phil who never misses a game, and his young son Elwood are all here as I take my place between Fiona and the man who I think is from Stowmarket.  We enjoy a few bars of Hey Jude and a red smoke bomb from the Charlton fans before at 12:31 the game begins; Ipswich having first go with the ball and facing the direction of Phil and Elwood, Pat, Fiona and me.  Bizarrely I think I hear the Charlton fans chanting “We’re the Millwall boys, making all the noise, everywhere we go”, that can’t be right, can it?  A woman sat in front of me devours an obscene looking foot long hot dog.  It’s the third minute of the match, the smell of the smoke bomb lingers and Town break; Bersant Celina to Conor Chaplin and out to Wes Burns, who shoots inaccurately and a little wildly from outside the penalty area.  With the smell of the smoke still lingering it currently seems more like Guy Fawkes night than the last match of the season, but no fireworks yet.

It’s the fifth minute and another clever pass from Conor Chaplin is meant to put Wes Burns through but he hasn’t reacted, it’s the third time already that Mr Burns has not been his usual self. A minute later and Bersant Celina does a few step overs before passing square to Tyreeq Bakinson who allows the ball to run across in front of him, looks up and then strikes it firmly into the top right- hand corner of the Charlton goal and Town lead 1-0.  As I remark to Pat from Clacton, Bakinson has been unlucky with a few shots from outside the penalty area in previous games, so it was a goal that had been coming for a while, although happily today we’ve only had to wait six minutes.

It always feels good to score early in a game, it’s almost as if the first goal is the hardest one to get.  But good things, possibly including goals, are like buses, someone probably once said and so it will prove. The twelfth minute and a through ball from the excellent Conor Chaplin sends Wes Burns clear of the Charlton defence and he hits the ball past the on-rushing Charlton goal-keeper, whose sprawling arms and legs aren’t sufficient to counter the deft use of the outside of Mr Burns’ right foot – “Excellent” as his cartoon namesake might say.  How we cheer, although it’s not enough to stop the Charlton supporters from chanting “Two-nil and you still don’t sing” as they trawl their back catalogue of late 1970’s disco hits.

Four minutes later and we think we’ve scored again as yet another through pass from Conor Chaplin, who must be carrying a slide-rule with him today allows the oddly named Macauley Bonne to ‘score,’ only for his and Conor’s work to be annulled by the raised flag of the brutal, heartless linesman.   It’s days like this when there’s nothing at stake that the attitude of ‘disgraced’ French referee Tony Chapron is required; Chapron has admitted having allowed some disallowable goals during his career because they were good goals. La Beaute 1 Actualite 0.

This is just what the last match of the season should be like and to add to the fun lots of players are slipping over on the watered wet turf, eliciting the inevitable jeers from a crowd that just loves slapstick. A slow clapping accompanies that song that includes the words Ole, Ole, Ole or Allez, Allez, Allez, I cant decide which. The joy is so infectious even people in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand put their hands together and chant, albeit a little bashfully.  Above the Cobbold Stand the three flags hang limply and Charlton get a little more into the game, winning two corners, but to no effect. I am struck by the thought that Wes Burns’ hair is looking much neater today than usual and he seems to have discarded his usual head band.  Wes is pictured on the front of today’s programme all dressed up with a black tie, which incidentally needsv straightening, to receive his Players’ Player award at last Wednesday’s awards night and it looks like he may not have been home since.

More than a quarter of the match is over and as Town win a corner Pat from Clacton produces a polythene bag of sweets. “We always score when I get the sweets out” she says “Or we always used to” she adds, harking back to the ‘good old days’.  I tell her that I think the difference is we simply  always used to score in the ‘good old days’. This time the sweets don’t work, despite ever-present Phil also going all Cuban with a chorus of “Score from a corner, We’re gonna score from a corner” to the tune of ‘Guantanamera’.  At the other end, a long throw for Charlton ends with a low bouncing shot bouncing harmlessly past Christian Walton’s right hand post.

“Is this a library?” chant the Charlton supporters in the time honoured operatic fashion,  thereby creating an odd impression of the benefits  of public education in South East London.  A half an hour has passed since the game began and Town’s attacking vigour has subsided somewhat, giving way to plenty of square passing.  In a rare moment of real excitement Sam Morsy shoots past a post and then,  perhaps in an attempt at what passes as satire for south-east Londoners, the Charlton fans embark on a long passage of chanting in which they call either “We’ve got the ball, we’ve got the ball, we’ve got the ball” or “We’ve lost the ball, we’ve lost the ball, we’ve lost the ball” according to whether or not their team has the ball. As an exercise in observation it’s not very taxing for our visitors, but it is very, very boring and after a while a little annoying. 

On the pitch meanwhile, Charlton are probably having as much if not more possession than Town as half-time approaches and they almost score when Jayden Stockley heads across goal and Christian Walton has to make a fine diving save, palming the ball away for a corner.  It’s a very good save indeed, but the best thing about it is that it interrupts the Charlton fans incessant, boring chanting about whether or not their team has the ball.  Sadly, after the corner comes to nought the chanting resumes.  Only four minutes to half-time and Town win another corner, “Your support is fucking shit” sing the Charlton choir employing Welsh religious music and seemingly becoming angrier, or at least more‘potty-mouthed’ in the process.  The last action of the half sees Conor Chaplin drop a looping header just the wrong side of the cross bar and a long passage of passing play leads to yet another aimless corner.

At half-time I speak briefly with Ray who has his wife Ros with him today; they have been enjoying pre-match hospitality in the form of a late breakfast in honour of their grandson Harrison’s 18th birthday earlier this week.  I speak with Harrison’s dad Michael and also give Harrison his birthday present, a copy of the CD ‘Robyn Hitchcock’ by the excellent Robyn Hitchcock, an artist who has provided the soundtrack to most of my adult life. Happily, Harrison will later let me know that he thinks the CD is “Brilliant”.  Meanwhile, behind us, public address compere Stephen Foster talks to true Town legend,  84 year old Ray Crawford, who was top scorer in Town’s Championship winning team of 1962 and even turned out for Charlton Athletic too a few years later.  If any other Town player ever deserves a statue it has to be Ray, Town’s all-time top scorer with 228 goals in just 354 games, no one will ever beat that. Returning to my seat,  I speak to ever-present Phil and let him know that I have e-mailed the club to suggest they paint or paper the walls inside the away supporters section to look like book shelves.  I am disappointed that I have not yet received any response other than that they will forward my e-mail to the ‘relevant department’.  I e-mailed again to ask who the ‘relevant department’ might be, but have not received a reply; they no doubt think I’m a looney.

The second half is still fresh when Charlton’s George Dobson becomes the first player to see the yellow card of the distinguished sounding referee Mr Charles Breakspear, after he fouls Conor Chaplin.  A minute later as if in an act of calculated revenge Conor provides yet another precise through ball which releases the oddly named Macauley Bonne, who then delivers a low cross for Wes Burns to despatch in to the Charlton goal net for a third Town goal.  Pat from Clacton records mine and Fiona’s celebrations for posterity in the form of a digital photograph which will later appear on Facebook, as is the fashion.

“3-0 on your big day out” chant the taunting, mocking occupants of the Sir Bobby Robson stand to the south-east Londoners. Pat looks to see what she has drawn in the Clacton Supporters’ coach ‘predict the result’ draw; it’s four home goals and any number of away goals, so Pat could be in the money!   “Ole, Ole, Ole” sing the Sir Bobby Robson stand as if they know that Pat may yet be a winner.  The thrill of expectation is broken by Janoi Doncien tactically heading over his own cross bar before  the North Stand launch a chorus of “Hark now hear the Ipswich sing, the Norwich ran away” as they pretend it’s Christmas and Charlton make their first substitution, with Alex Gilbey who, like both the oddly named Macauley Bonne and Kane Vincent-Young once played for Colchester United, but unlike them shares his surname with a brand of gin, being replaced by Chukwuemeka Aneke.   Janoi Donacien appears to have been injured in heading over his own cross-bar and is also replaced, by the aforementioned Kane Vincent-Young.

Less than half an hour of the season remains but Conor Chaplin continues to make incisive passes and this time Luke Woolfenden almost puts in a low cross before sending the ball high and wide from what was possibly a shot.  “3-0 and you still don’t sing” chant the Charlton fans sounding increasingly frustrated at the Town fans’ insouciance, but still enjoying a cheery late 1970’s disco vibe.  The attendance is announced as being 26,002 with 1,972 of that number being Charlton supporters.  Weirdly, some people applaud themselves for turning up, but to my right there is a sudden exclamation. “I don’t believe it” says Pat from Clacton, “The bloody dog has won it”.  The ‘it’ in this case is the Clacton Supporters’ bus guess the crowd competition, and the dog is her brother Kevin’s dog Alfie, who Pat will later worryingly refer to as her nephew.  “Does he win a lot?” asks the man with the crew cut who sits in the row between Pat and ever-present Phil.

Cameron Humphreys replaces Conor Chaplin who receives well-deserved rapturous applause and Charlton replace Conor Washington with Elliott Lee to reduce the number of Conors on the pitch from two to zero within the space of seconds. “Is this a library?” and “Your support is fucking shit” chant the Charltonites again, ploughing an all too familiar furrow, but perhaps not realising that as football stands go the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand is a sort of retirement home in which many of the occupants are constantly singing “Bobby Robson’s Blue and White Army”, but in our heads.

Thirteen minutes to go and Jayden Stockley heads against the Town cross bar. Three minutes later and a shout of “Handball! ” goes up from the Charlton fans. Nobody not in a red shirt knows why but there follows thirty seconds of every touch of the ball being greeted with a call of “ Handball” from the ever sarcastic people of Ipswich.  Charlton win a corner. “Charlton, Charlton!” shout the Charlton fans, showing how supporting your team is done, but it doesn’t bring a goal so it’s not worth it, although a prone Christian Walton does have to claw the ball down to stop it entering the net.  Six minutes to go and James Norwood replaces the oddly named Macauley Bonne to rich applause for both players.  James Norwood has announced that this is his last game for Town; if this were a US TV Cop show he’d get shot just before the final whistle, but happily it’s not.  Returning my attention to the actual football, “We want four” I think to myself half- imagining what Portman Road crowds of old would have chanted, and as I do so Cameron Humphreys threads a Conor Chaplin-style through-ball into the path of James Norwood who, from a very oblique angle steers it into the net, possibly off the goalkeeper, for his last ever Town goal. It’s only the third time Town have scored more than three goals at home this season and the it’s the biggest end of season win I’ve witnessed since Town beat Crewe Alexandra 5-1 in April 2005.   As Town fans cheer, Charlton fans sing “We forgot you were here” and three minutes of time added on melt away into forgotten history.

As last days of the season go, this has been a really good one, despite the 12.30 kick off, but it feels like it comes with the rider that Town have to do well next season.  Personally, I’m not too bothered either way, I just like to see Town play well; if we do that and we finish eleventh again I won’t be suicidal, although may be the club’s American investors will be.  But I can afford to be complacent, I’m old enough to have seen Town win the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, but the likes of Harrison and Elwood haven’t, so come on Town, do it for them.

Ipswich Town 2 Bolton Wanderers 5

This evening I shall be staying in town after the match and along with my friend Pete will be going to the Arbor House (formerly and properly known as the Arboretum) for something to eat and a pint of Mauldon’s Suffolk Pride (£3.70).  The refreshments however are a mere precursor to the main event, which will see me heading to the Ipswich Transport Museum to witness the wonderful, extraordinary, and brilliant Robyn Hitchcock (formerly of the Soft Boys) perform a selection from his repertoire of over forty years’ worth of groovy tunes.  Robyn is a particular hero of mine who first came to my notice back in 1978, a year that was an undoubted highpoint in my largely pointless existence, when a friend played me the Soft Boys single “(I want to be an) Anglepoise Lamp”.   This evening, explaining how he comes to be playing a concert in Ipswich Transport Museum, Robyn will tell of how in the summer of 1963, as a ten-year old obsessed with the Beatles and trolleybuses he glimpsed Ipswich Corporation’s trolleybus-filled Priory Heath depot from the train line that runs by on the opposite side of Cobham Road.  Robyn’s love of trolleybuses has not abated, and he will confide that playing the museum is a dream gig, and he’s right, it will be one of the most memorable concerts I have ever been to.  The last time I saw Ipswich Town and Robyn Hitchcock on the same day was 17th October 1992 when in the company of Pete’s then girlfriend, now wife, Claire, I witnessed a 1-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge before Claire and I ate burgers in Wendy’s on Oxford Street and then travelled on to the Powerhaus in Islington to meet up with Pete. But today, before the pleasure must come the pain.

After three consecutive two-all home draws in League matches, I have broken out of the pattern of driving into Ipswich in my trusty Citroen C3, parking on Chantry, and trying to get a drink in the fanzone but failing.  Today I have travelled to Ipswich with the aforementioned Pete in his fourteen-year-old Ford Focus and am meeting another friend, Mick at the Greyhound for a pre-match pint of Adnam’s Southwold Bitter (formerly more simply known just as Adnam’s Bitter). I am anticipating that the break in habit will bear fruit with a first win of the season.  At the Greyhound Mick kindly buys the pints of beer, so I don’t know what they cost, but I expect they were expensive.   After three-quarters of an hour of intelligent conversation we leave the Greyhound beer garden (formerly the car park) at about twenty minutes to three and go our separate ways on Sir Alf Ramsey Way, Mick to what was the West Stand and me to what was Churchman’s after having both purchased a programme each (£3.50), so that we know the names of the players representing Town this week.  It’s a good job we do too because today we have both a new goalkeeper, Christian Walton, and a new centre-half, George Edmundson and there are three more changes to the team that last played.  I enter the ground through turnstile number fifty-nine because Pat from Clacton seems to be causing the formation of a small queue at turnstile number sixty.  Entering the ground, I chat to Kevin who I know from our time at Wivenhoe Town.

On the lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, by the time I’ve drained my bladder Pat from Clacton and Fiona have taken their seats and Ray and ever-present Phil who never misses a game and his son Elwood are here too; Ray’s son and his grandson Harrison are absent however because, as Ray will later tell me they are at Centre-Parcs.  With both teams on the pitch and lined up, Conor Chaplin swings his leg to kick-off the match just as referee Mr Robert Madley reminds him that the teams are about to ‘take the knee’, which Conor proceeds to do, seamlessly transforming his shaping up to kick pose into a kneel as the crowd applauds and sticks it to racist knuckle-draggers everywhere.

Soon enough Chaplin begins the game and within a minute the assembled Boltonians up in the Cobbold Stand are asking “Is this a library?” through the medium of Italian opera.  “You don’t know what a library is” bawls a man somewhere behind me, sounding like the embittered voice of the person responsible for adult education in Greater Manchester.  Bolton win a corner.  The fifth minute arrives and Wes Burns brushes aside the weakling challenge of Bolton full-back Liam Gordon to put in a low cross, which the oddly named Macauley Bonne merely has to side foot into the net, which he does, to give Town a very early lead and confirm that today things will be different.  How we celebrate; the breath of life inflating our balloon-like hopes. “He’s fuckin’ superb, he is” says the coarse bloke behind me of Wes Burns. I can’t disagree, but might express the view differently.  I breathe in the smell of the lush turf as the Sir Bobby Robson stand invoke the spirit of Boney M and Christmas with their oddly un-seasonal and goodwill-free version of Mary’s Boy Child. 

A further five minutes pass, and the right hand side of the Town defence solidifies instead of gelling and Bolton’s Oladapo Afolayan sweeps the ball past Christian Walton to equalise.  The balloon of hope has burst.  “Who are ya? chant the Bolton fans repetitively, for reasons which are not clear. “Who the fuckin’ hell are you?” respond the Sir Bobby Robson stand equally repetitively and for equally obscure reasons, but whilst also possibly claiming short-lived ‘bragging rights’ by including a swear in what is usually a religious tune (Cwm Rhondda).   The Bolton support responds in turn however with what sounds like “Wanky, wanky, wanky, wanky Wanderers”, although I could be wrong, and their thick Lancastrian accents may have disguised their true words beneath a layer of hot-pot, barm cakes and soot.  But there is no time to dwell on this as the eager to gloat Boltonians follow up with renditions of the generally truthful “Sing when you’re winning” and the geographically inaccurate “Small town in Norwich, you’re just small town in Norwich”.  Such is the quick-fire nature of their trawl through these songs that I half expect the PA system to announce their availability on three discs exclusive to K-tel Records via mail-order.

The Bolton fans’ jibes make the time pass quickly until their team’s next goal, in the 18th minute, which arrives courtesy of Kane Vincent-Young’s ill-advised and unnecessary attempt at a tackle in the penalty area. Eoin Doyle scores the penalty for Bolton as Christian Walton appears to dive out of the way of the ball.  Within five minutes Vincent-Young is replaced by Janoi Donacien as he has already been given a glimpse of Mr Madley’s yellow card and no longer looks like a fully functioning full-back.  Despite trailing, Town are not obviously the second-best team on the pitch and the Bolton defence is often desperate, to the extent that both Lloyd Isgrove and the delightfully Welsh Gethin Jones both have their names written down in Mr Madley’s notebook.  A third of the game has passed and once again Wes Burns decides there is nothing for it but to bustle past the full-back and send in another cross from which the oddly named Macauley Bonne can score, but Bolton’s Ricardo saves Bonne the trouble of applying the final touch and Town are level.  “E’s fuckin’ superb” says the bloke behind me of Wes Burns, just in case no one was listening after the first goal.  An hour left and we’ve already reached the usual scoreline for a home league game, at this rate we’re heading for a six-all draw. 

Hopes for a win are revived and the massively improved Sone Aluko heads over the Bolton cross-bar and also puts in a decent cross at the end of a fine move down the right. “E’s ‘aving a good game, ‘e is” says the bloke behind me of Aluko, in case we weren’t sure.  There will be three minutes of time added on, which is more than enough time to score another goal. Wes Burns once again gets down the wing to the goal line and crosses the ball for Macaulay Bonne to direct towards the goal, but his off-balance stab at the ball bounces the wrong side of the goal post.  Quickly Bolton launch the ball forward and with unsporting alacrity the ball is delivered to the feet of Oladapo Afolayan who scores what is almost a replica of his first goal with the Town defence unsure whether to gel, solidify or just melt away. For the first time this season it has become necessary to score a third goal simply to avoid defeat.

Half-time provides time to reflect on confused emotions and to talk to Ray who, as a former full-back, albeit for the YMCA in the 1970’s, has concerns about the defence and the midfield.  Our conversation fills the space between the two halves completely and the game is almost beginning again as I take my seat and I haven’t yet eaten my Nature Valley chocolate and peanut protein bar.  Ever-present Phil says we’re going to win 5-4 and I remain hopeful too, especially as Finney and Worthington are both out for Bolton and have been for several years.  The one portent of possible doom however, is that the lead in my Ipswich Town pencil has snapped. Three minutes pass and Bolton send a ball over the top to Doyle.  Walton saves a shot from Antoni Sarcevic before the Town defence dissolves into an aqueous mess and Josh Sheehan scores a simple fourth goal.  The bloke behind me vows to leave if Bolton score again.

The bright early autumn sunshine and blue sky seem to mock me with their beauty and question what I’m doing here on such a lovely September afternoon. The attendance is announced as being 19,267 with 553 of that number being supporters of Bolton Wanderers who must be lapping up the additional Vitamin D.  Weirdly given the sunshine, at sixteen minutes past four the floodlights are turned on. “That Evans is a bag o’nails” says the bloke behind me in an unrelated and possibly surreal incident.  A minute later George Johnston scores a fifth for Bolton as the Ipswich defence gets into what Radio Suffolk’s Brenner Woolley could justifiably call a “sixes and sevens situation.” The bloke behind me leaves as he said he would. Loud boos emanate from the mouths of some Town supporters. “It’s a shame innit” says Pat from Clacton sympathetically. “We want six” chant the Bolton supporters less sympathetically.  “We’ve got to go all-out attack now” says Pat to ever-present Phil, although the score line already suggests that if we’re not attacking we’re not doing anything else much either.

Conor Chaplin is replaced by 1960’s signing from Cambridge City Tommy Carroll.  “Is this a library?” sing the Bolton fans reprising their earlier attempts at a Verdi opera, and the oddly named Macauley Bonne hits a post with subtle re-direction of a Hayden Coulson cross.  “What I don’t understand is why he don’t bring Piggott on and play two up-top. That’s fuckin’ ignorance that is” says a voice behind me which sounds oddly like the voice that I thought had left after the fifth goal.  The answer to what he doesn’t understand is that Piggott isn’t actually on the bench.  Ignorance eh?

Town have plenty of possession now, but annoyingly Bolton appear to have gelled and we can’t find a way through.   “Over and in” says Pat from Clacton willing the ball into the Bolton net from a cross, but it’s over and out for a corner.  Soon it will be over and out full stop.  “We can see you sneaking out” chant the hot-pot munchers upstairs in the Cobbold stand, conveniently ignoring the people like me, Ray, Fiona, ever-present Phil, and Pat from Clacton who will resolutely sit in our seats until the inevitably bitter end.  A Bolton shot sails over the cross bar and lands the width of seven or eight seats and a gangway to my right. The bloke in the seat in front of me flinches and ducks away to his left, but it’s still early in the season and he clearly hasn’t gelled with his surroundings.  Seven minutes remain and in what seems like the most aimless substitution of the season so far, Wes Burns is replaced with Kayden Jackson, although I reserve the right to change that view should Wes Burns prove to have been injured.   “Kayden Jackson? We’d be better off with Gordon Jackson” I think to myself, involuntarily remembering both the 1970’s ITV series ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’. Thankfully I didn’t shout it out.

In due course the final whistle sounds to the inevitable boos from those elements of the home crowd ignorant of, or unable to see the truths in the words of Rudyard Kipling’s admittedly sexist poem “If”, about attitudes to triumph and disaster.  I must admit however to preferring Lindsay Anderson’s film.   I leave the Sir Alf Ramsey stand in the company of Ray, who is heading for Fonnereau Road where his wife Roz will pick him up, whilst appropriately, given the nightmare I’ve just witnessed, I head for the car park on Elm Street.   But what do I care, the best of my day is yet to come and I know it.

Ipswich Town 0 Swansea City 1


Despite being fortunate enough to grow up and go to school in Suffolk, I was born in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where I lived until I was a few months old and my parents moved to my mother’s home village of Shotley  and took me and my sister with them, like the good parents that they were.  The nearest Football League club to Haverfordwest is Swansea City, (still Swansea Town when I was born) and there is an argument that says I might follow their fortunes, but I don’t.  The dual nationality comes in handy when Wales do well in the rugby and I like leeks,  cheese on toast, Ivor the Engine, Sgorio  and daffodils; but that’s as Welsh as I am see.  I wouldn’t normally mention it but today Town play Swansea City, and I’ve written this first paragraph in a Welsh accent. 

At the railway station it’s another gloriously warm, cloudless day and sunlight glints off the tracks.  The only travellers are all bound for Ipswich and the match; the train is on time.  The carriage is sparsely populated and I share it with a hard looking woman and two young children, a girl and a boy.  As the train arrives into Colchester she scolds them in a harsh voice that sounds like a man’s. “Drake, McKenna get away from the door”.  I can’t help but derive amusement from the names of children nowadays, it’s my age.  The children seem almost to roll their eyes as she speaks.  Pleasingly they leave the train at Colchester and twenty five minutes later I arrive peacefully in Ipswich.

Ipswich is best under a blue sky and everything is beautiful as I walk up Princes Street and past the peeling paint of Portman Road with its ragged club flag to St Jude’s Tavern, which is dingy and the customers are reassuringly as old and ugly as ever. I order a pint of the Match Day Special (£2.50)  Nethergate Venture.  At the bar I meet Kev’ who I know from my days with Wivenhoe Town.  Kev’ is wearing a dark flat cap which in the gloom of St Jude’s looks like a beret.  I am wearing my “Allez les bleus” T-shirt today and tell him I thought the French had come to take me “home” to where I imagine I belong  –  that’s France, not Wales.   I sit with the regular old gits who assemble here on match days.  I talk to one of them (Phil) about statues of footballers and tell him that even Carlisle United has one, although I can’t remember who it is a statue of. Phil suggests it’s not a footballer but one of the Hairy Bikers because he knows one of them is from Cumbria.  I tell him the Hairy Biker he’s thinking of is from Barrow In Furness, where the nuclear submarines come from.  I drain my glass and fetch a pint of Butcomb Gold (£3.60), which seems livelier than the Venture even though I can’t help thinking Butcomb might be a West Country word for anus.

With the big hand heading up the clock face towards the figure eight, the pub empties and carried on a gentle human tide I soon find myself back in Portman Road.  A selection of people are hawking copies of the Turnstile Blue fanzine where Portman Road meets Sir Alf Ramsey Way and I buy one (£1);  it’s issue 20 and it’s much like the previous nineteen in its tone, but it’s nice when things are familiar.  Unusually there are queues to get into the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand; not because of weight of numbers but because not all the turnstiles are open.  Nevertheless, despite my desire to be French I like a good queue to get in the ground; it carries a faint hint of the ‘big match’ atmosphere, which is the best 17,247 people can really hope for in a 30,000 seat stadium.  I enter turnstile number seven and wish the bespectacled female operator a happy Easter as she returns my freshly scanned season ticket card to me.  She looks up, surprised as if she’d forgotten about the resurrection.

Bladder drained, I occupy a seat near ever-present Phil who never misses a game and just along from Pat from Clacton.  Pat is fed up because a large man in a red hat is sat directly in front of her today and she’s only short; whichever way she looks a big red head is in her field of vision.  We sit and wait for the teams to appear from the tunnel.   

Town have been officially relegated for over a week now and today’s match is amongst the most pointless they have ever played, childishly I live in the hope that  they will therefore treat it as a bit of fun, a bit like testimonial games  are supposed to be.  Would anyone be bothered if the two teams each agreed to play a 2-3-5 formation?   I am not optimistic for this however as professional football tends to take itself much too seriously, like many of the fans, as the drivel that appears on social media testifies.   The teams are announced and my hopes of football for fun are dashed. 

The flags of tiny mascots and larger furry mascots sway to an amplified soundtrack of swirling music giving an undeserved aura of grandeur to the two teams as they walk out for this meaningless encounter, but I stand and applaud nevertheless, swept up with the lie that this match is bigger than really it is. As the game begins the noise level simmers down and a degree of reality returns. Town are hopefully aiming at the goal just to the left of me, ever-present Phil and Pat from Clacton; they inevitably wear blue and white shirts adorned with the unwelcome red adidas stripes and that nasty sponsors’ logo. In crisp white shorts and black shorts Swansea look like Germany, they are the Teutonic Taffies.

“One Dylan Thomas, There’s only one Dylan Thomas” sing the male voice choir from Swansea from the top corner of the Cobbold Stand, or perhaps they don’t. A serious looking steward collects blue and white balloons that have drifted from the stand, thereby  suppressing someone’s expression of joy; no doubt the balloons had strayed dangerously close to the pitch. I like to think that as part of the club’s Community programme the balloons will later be released at the birthday parties of deprived children. Next to me Pat from Clacton continues to glower at the big red hat on the big head of the big man sitting in front of her. On the touchline Paul Lambert is celebrating Easter with a new jumper, a grey one, an infinite number of shades lighter than his usual black one, and people still accuse Scots of being dour.

On the pitch referee Mr Darren England, which seems a good name for a football referee, makes himself unpopular with the home support by seemingly giving fouls against Ipswich players and not Swansea ones.  “You’re not fit to referee Subbuteo, you tiny little bugger” bawls an incensed voice from somewhere behind me, failing to notice that being tiny is actually one of the main requirements of being a Subbuteo referee along with being made from brittle plastic and glued into a circular base.   The game is rather boring and Swansea are hogging the ball; like every other club that has been to Portman Road this season, they have the better players. into the Swansea penalty area and wins a corner. Will Keane misses a header and scuffs the ball against a post, the ball bounces about like it’s made of rubber bands before Trevoh Chalobah sends it flying past the other post into the stand.  Sixty seconds later, give or take, another corner is won and Toto N’siala heads Alan Judge’s kick solidly over the cross bar. The supporters behind the goal are getting almost as much possession of the ball as Andre Dozzell.  Pat and I are breathless at the sudden burst of attacking football from Town and are glad for the rest that half-time soon brings.

I use the facilities beneath the stand, eat a Panda brand liquorice stick and catch up on the half-time scores.  A young man in a shirt and tie and smart trousers compliments me on my ‘Allez les Bleus’ T-shirt, “Cool T-shirt” he says brightly. He’s not wrong.  The match stats on the TV screen above the concourse are blatantly wrong however, claiming Ipswich have had eight shots to Swansea’s six; it’s as if the stats are being reported by Donald Trump or the Brexit campaign.  I return to the stand to talk to Ray who confesses to being underwhelmed by the first half.

At six minutes past four the game resumes.  I laugh when Gwion Edwards stretches to head the ball by the touchline then tumbles out of sight over the perimeter wall; “well for me” to quote Mick Channon, it’s the best move of the match so far.  Happily, Gwion quickly bounces back up and plays on, but that’s the sort of entertainment end of season games need.  Minutes later Dean Gerken makes a  quite spectacular low,  diving, ‘finger-tip save’ from a Daniel James shot before the very tiny, thirty-four year old Wayne Routledge, whose shorts almost reach his calves, runs the ball over the goal line and is met with jeers and guffaws from the appreciative crowd in the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.   But Wayne has a friend in fate today and within a few minutes a shot rebounds off Town’s right hand post and straight onto the turf in front of Wayne who is quick enough not to miss an open goal and Swansea are winning.

The attendance is announced as 17,247 with 557 of those being from Swansea; Collin Quaner and Kayden Jackson replace Andre Dozzell and Will Keane.  Wayne Routledge is replaced by Nathan Dyer.  “I can’t believe we’re losing again” says Pat from Clacton.  I make a sympathetic humming noise in reply, I couldn’t think of any proper words to say.   Behind Pat sit two large middle aged women. “We don’t really get the sun here, do we” says one obviously engrossed in the game, before adding “Coronation Street’s on tonight”.

Town struggle to equalise and Pat and I are a little despondent, “I don’t really enjoy coming here anymore” she says “It’s not like it used to be”.  We are Ipswich’s spoilt generation who remember the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  But Pat is already planning to renew her season ticket and might get one for her young niece too.   Of course I am going to renew mine as well as will ever-present Phi who never misses game; I’m looking forward to the big discount when the other 13, 996 sign up.  Pat takes a photograph using the 20x zoom lens on her compact Sony camera and picks out her brother stood in the North Stand, it’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen all afternoon. 

Time drifts by under a hazy blue sky and at last the stadium clock turns nine minutes to five.  It’s been a disappointing hour and a half of football and to add insult to injury we are forced to sit through six minutes of time added on; as if relegation wasn’t bad enough we are now all in detention.  Hopes are raised with a last minute corner and Dean Gerken leaves his goal to join in the penalty area melee at the far end; I stand up and lurch forward as if to join him too, but realise just  in time that that sort of commitment is generally frowned upon nowadays.  Little Alan Judge’s corner kick is poorly judged and sails away over everyone’s heads anyway.  Finally Mr Darren England makes a belated and vain bid for popularity by blowing the final whistle.

Normally the team does a lap of honour or appreciation around the pitch after the last game of the season, but because the last game of this season will be against Leeds United that lap is occurring today.  Having been relegated the Town players don’t want thousands of oafish Yorkshireman flicking v’s at the them and screaming at  them from the Cobbold Stand to “Fuck Off” as they wander round clutching assorted  babies and toddlers and waving nicely.   The players re-emerge from the tunnel without delay and I slavishly applaud as they drift by beyond a wall of stewards; within a couple of minutes I go home for my tea.

Brantham Athletic 0 Stowmarket Town 0

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

a dull grey january day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wivenhoe Town 0 Harwich & Parkeston 2

I first went to watch Wivenhoe Town in December 1990, it was a match against Bognor Regis; the Dragons, as Wivenhoe are known lost 2-1 but were flying high back then, in the Vauxhall sponsored Isthmian League or such like, but that’s not the case anymore. Today Wivenhoe Town are in the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League First Division South (there is no Second Division) and are at home to Harwich & Parkeston, a club with an equal or even more illustrious past, who are recovering from a recent spell of self-imposed ignominy in the Essex and Suffolk Border League, but are now on a run of eleven consecutive victories. Wivenhoe are on a similar run of eleven consecutive games, albeit one of consecutive defeats.
It’s a beautifully still, bright but cold mid-January afternoon as I coax my Citroën C3 over the ruts and potholes of the car park at the Broad Lane Sports Ground, Wivenhoe. Whilst I could get to Wivenhoe Town’s home by No 62 bus from Colchester, or by train to Wivenhoe and a 30 minute walk past four pubs out to Broad Lane, today I am glad to be accompanied by my wife Paulene and therefore, as a result of her unpredictable asthma we have travelled by car. The crunch of gravel beneath the wheels of the Citroën is pleasing even if the bouncing sensation over the potholes is less so and our French car makes us feel like Inspector Maigret might have done if on a day off he’d driven down to Wivenhoe to watch a match. There are only a few remaining spaces in the car park, and it’s still not much after half past two.

Getting out of the Citroën we walk across the car park to the strains of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” blaring tinnily from the PA system inside the ground; this unexpected soundtrack to this moment in our lives is a somewhat surreal experience and it’s hard to imagine finding any sort of ‘uptown girl’ in or around this non-league football club car park. I would of course like to say that Paulene could be that uptown girl, but she’s from Portsmouth.

The white painted breeze-blocks of the turnstile hut are almost blinding in the pale winter sun, but we manage to feel our way there past the bright blue and red refuse bins. At the turnstile I hand over a fresh ten pound note from which I receive no change for one adult admission (£6), one retired person’s admission (£3) and a programme (£1) . We stop at the turnstile at talk to Rich’ who has been operating this turnstile for at least the past five years now. Just inside the gate, hanging around on the forecourt in front of the clubhouse and the tea bar we find Bob, and then Steve walks over, about to pack a large burger-filled bun into his mouth. He tells us he’s dining out today. We are soon joined by ‘the Mole’ (real name Mark) and Biff (real name Ian) , all of them stalwart, long-term supporters who have been watching The Dragons through thin, thinner and thinner still. Bob tells us about his gammy knee, which needs replacing with a plastic one. Mole, who apparently acquired his nickname because people where he worked at the Post Office sorting office in Colchester thought he was a Trotskyite agitator, tells us of how there are plans afoot for the Football Association to acquire Broad Lane from the Council and the trust who currently administer it.

We are all still stood about chatting sociably as the two teams line up in the tunnel, a sliding, cream painted, metal structure that looks like it might have been made from an old bedstead. Fat Boy Slim’s swirly, anticipation-raising “Right Here, Right Now” so beloved by the people who choose the music at football grounds has usurped Billy Joel, and the teams emerge side by side behind the two men and one lady in black, Messrs Jarvis and Laider and Ms Withams. I’m disappointed not to see any sign of Wivvy the Wivenhoe dragon mascot; no scorch marks, no droppings , nothing. Multiple handshakes over with, the two teams retreat to their own halves on the pitch, to huddle in the case of Harwich whilst Wivenhoe just line-up. Harwich kick-off the game in the direction of the car park, clubhouse and the black towers of the University of Essex beyond in Wivenhoe Park; they sport an un-necessary change kit of all-red whilst Wivenhoe wear all-blue creating the classic football scene of reds versus blues on a background of green.
Harwich begin the game in a hurry and in the first couple of minutes, as we make our way down to the sunny end of the ground, they pin Wivenhoe back, winning a couple of corners and a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area. Harwich’s number four Shaun Kroussis sweeps the ball over the Wivenhoe defensive wall but it doesn’t get past the goalkeeper. “Gotta be fuckin’ stronger in the wall” bawls the Wivenhoe manager, although it’s hard to see how they could have stopped the ball going over the wall without perhaps also being a foot taller. By the time we reach the sunshine of the tennis court end of the ground Harwich’s period of dominance has abated and the game settles down into a terrible mess of misplaced, over-hit and failed passes punctuated by hoofs and shouts and trips and falls; it’s awful. Wivenhoe’s forwards are regularly flagged offside. “ Piss-off linesman” shouts Steve encouragingly as the flag is raised again. An advert at the side of the ground says nothing more than “Need a cab? 01206 543210” as if predicting that there are times when the game can be so bad that all you might want to do is leave.

In a rare moment of football Harwich have a shot on target. A brief chorus of “Ha-rwich, Ha-rwich” rings out from the fifty or so visiting supporters behind the goal. The quick riposte from the three Wivenhoe fans stood in the sunshine at the opposite end of the ground is one of “We thought you were dead, we were right, we were right”. Things don’t get any better on the pitch but looking for something positive to say Steve reflects that “At least we’ve brought them down to our level”. Seeking solace where we can we appreciate just how very pleasant it is stood here in the low winter sunshine; it must be a good degree warmer than in the shade by the main stand where there’s even chill breeze. No doubt feeling blessed, Steve asks “Where do we keep finding all these colour blind players?”

It’s a surprise when Bob says it’s nearly half-time, we must have been enjoying ourselves really, it just hasn’t felt like it, and the time has flown by. I join the queue by the clubhouse and am soon picking up two polystyrene cups of tea (£2) from Janet in the tea bar. Through the window I can see the Harwich & Parkeston club officials eagerly munching their way through the sandwiches and cake that Wivenhoe has had to provide as hospitality under league rules. I take a look at the team sheet and am at first a little confused as to the player’s names because they have all been written out surname first. I hadn’t really noticed this until I read the name of Harwich’s number eleven, Rose Tyler. The Harwich number seventeen Joseph Joseph makes me think of Major Major in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 as well the Beatles’ Get Back.
We stroll back towards the terrace pausing by the perimeter wall to speak with Michael the assistant Harwich manager who apologises for the first half and tells us that there was no jug of half-time squash provided for the Harwich players, which seems a bit stingy. As I wander back along the terrace I spill a bit of my tea down the front of my coat and Paulene berates me to the general amusement of a bunch of men who no doubt secretly recognise their own plight in witnessing my moment of misery. To make matters worse I feel guilty for spilling that tea when I know there are Harwich players who went thirsty at half-time.
The second half begins and pleasingly it is much better than the first and some football breaks out. Long evening shadows now extend right across the pitch and as the sun sets over the car park leaving a red smudge across the clear sky, the moon rises over in the direction of Harwich and the floodlights turn on one by one; it’s a beautiful sight.

Harwich are looking a better team now, but so are Wivenhoe and both seem to have remembered the purpose of the game. At about twenty past four we come as close to seeing a goal as perhaps you can without actually seeing one. Harwich cause confusion in the Wivenhoe defence and the ball runs to Elliott Johnson who with time to accurately direct his shot effects masterful precision to strike the ball against the Wivenhoe keeper’s left hand post. Sometimes seeing the ball hit the post is almost as good as an actual goal; I’d be surprised if the late Jimmy Hill in one of his many attempts to ‘improve’ the game hadn’t at some time suggested that hitting the post should count as at least half a goal.
The Wivenhoe supporters don’t seem to have an over-abundance of confidence in their team’s goalkeeper Aaron Reid, but contrary to their expectations he is making some very good saves. Someone asks the question whether this could be a man of the match performance from Aaron. “ To be fair, he’s overdue one” says Steve supportively. But, for the goalkeeper to be man of the match usually means that the opposing team is better and so it proves. Harwich have another attack, time stands still in the Wivenhoe penalty area and so do their defenders and Harwich number sixteen, or possibly fourteen, I can’t quite make it out under the energy saving floodlight bulbs, sends a low shot in to the net. It’s about twenty-five to five. At twenty to five much the same thing happens again and what looks like it might have been the same player moves in slow motion before scoring with another low shot. I later learn that the goalscorers are Callum Griffths (No16) and Jordan Heath (No9). I have a new glasses prescription, perhaps I should use it.

There is much joy at the tennis courts end of the ground and the Shrimpers fans are in good voice singing “Ohhh, Harwich & Parkeston” to the tune of the White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ and “Bus stop near Asda, we’re just a bus stop near Asda” to the tune of Joseito Fernandez’s Guantanamera. At the car park end the Wivenhoe support, which was boosted at half-time by the arrival of Rich’ from the turnstile resigns itself to yet another defeat, but still seems to be having fun, finding amusement in mimicking the whining of some of the players “R-ef, r-ef, r-e-e-ef” and by carefully and politely not mentioning how stout the lines-lady is when querying her offside decisions. Having female officials would seem to improve everyone’s behaviour, so all power to them.
With ninety minutes and not much more played referee Mr Jarvis calls time. As much as I hate to say it, it has been a game of two halves, neither of them much good for Wivenhoe but it’s been good to see one previously well regarded club seemingly back on the road to recovery. The handful of Wivenhoe fans who remain are still clearly enjoying themselves too, even if the entertainment is largely of their own making. But as an Ipswich Town supporter I know all about that and personally I think winning is over-rated.