Havre AC 2 Tours FC 0

It is Friday 11th May and tonight the 38th and final round of matches will be played in the French second division, known as Ligue 2, which despite the French reputation for gastronomy is sponsored by Domino’s Pizza. Tours have already been relegated to the Ligue National having been bottom of the league for much of the season. Le Havre, known as HAC, by contrast, have been within striking distance of les barrages (play-offs) positions for much of the season and a good recent run finds them in fifth place and needing a win to ensure that they will play in les barrages.
My wife Paulene and I arrived in Le Havre on Wednesday afternoon and bought our tickets (10 Euros each) at the smaller of two club shops, the one in the Place Perret in the centre of the city (the larger shop is in the Docks Vauban shopping mall, about 15 minutes away on foot). There is no longer a ticket office or club shop at the Stade Océane where HAC play their home matches, although guichets do open there on the evening of the match. Place Perret is named after the architect whose practice was charged with rebuilding Le Havre after a phenomenal 80% of it was destroyed by allied bombing in 1944. Perret was a great advocate of concrete construction and his planned city centre with its wide boulevards, massive city square and classically inspired concrete buildings is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking its streets is like being in an idyllic 1950’s vision of the city of the future.

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The Stade Océane is at the very edge of what is a sprawling city, with its vast docks strung along the mouth of the River Seine.  The HAC website refers to shuttle buses (navettes) that run from the city centre to the stadium but it doesn’t provide details.  The bloke in the club shop didn’t seem to know anything about the navettes, disappointingly recommending travelling by car; nor did the woman at the Tourist Information centre, although she was able to supply a bus map and timetable for the regular service that passes close to the stadium.  The HAC website does however provide a link to the website of CODAH (Communauté de l’agglomération havraise) the local public transport undertaking who provide the free navettes and where I learn that buses will run every forty minutes from Quai D (stand D) of the bus station (gare routier) beginning at 6.30pm.  After the match four separate routes will run to various destinations across the city.41233756055_f38c51250b_o
Although kick-off is not until 8:45pm we are perhaps over keen and are waiting at the bus station at 6.30 where a handful of people including a nerdish looking youth in a HAC tracksuit top are already hanging around Quai D. A white Mercedes bus swings onto the stand and first in the queue is a small boy who climbs aboard and stretches up to hug the driver, who it seems is his dad. Pausing briefly to go “awww” we board the bus and after waiting a few minutes, during which time no one else boards the bus who hadn’t already been waiting for it, we set off. The journey takes us through some less salubrious areas of the city, close to the docks through streets that might be termed both ‘gritty’ and ‘urban’ amongst other things.
The journey takes about 15 minutes at the end of which we are dropped off next to some tenement blocks beyond which, across a railway track and grey concrete open space is the amazing, bright blue Stade Océane, which looks like an enormous beached rubber dinghy. A few fans wait by the entrance to a subterranean world into which the team coaches will soon descend, but we ascend a flight of steps to the concourse around theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ground where not much is happening. A friendly faced man in the mobile club shop speaks to the nerd from earlier and then peers out in vain for customers who don’t think he is selling ice creams. I take a look OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAat his stock and he tries to convince me to buy a scarf; I tell him I already have a petit fanion (pennant) from the shop in town and this seems to satisfy him. He asks me who my team are in England and is complimentary when I say it is Ipswich Town, revealing that his knowledge of the English game is perhaps not up to date.
We hang about waiting for the turnstiles to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAopen. Some people arrive and buy tickets at the guichets where club employees arrange plastic barriers and then take them away again. The huge car park beyond the stadium fills up slowly with a trickle of cars from the main road that runs close by. Children are being admitted free tonight and school parties gather at the south end of the stadium, where more barriers snake a path to the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAturnstiles. As we lean against a concrete wall two young women hand out free copies of the A4 sized, glossy four page match programme. There is a hot food van with the rather wonderful name of Friterie Momo parked on the concourse, providing a supply of massive cartons full of chips and sausage-filled baguettes (7 euros) to an increasing queue of casual diners. I wouldn’t usually eat this in England so see no reason to eat it in France, although it is likely to taste better, but I do buy a 500 ml can of Ch’ti Blonde (4 euros) the local beer of Pas de Calais and Picardie, which at 6.4% alcohol could probably not legally be sold at a football ground in England. But French people will drink one can of Ch’ti, English people would try and drink eight or ten.


Eventually the turnstiles open; they are automatic and read the barcodes on the tickets, but entry to the stadium is not speedy because once through the turnstiles everyone has to be patted down. Then the turnstiles go haywire as the barcode readers stop working, but it doesn’t matter because people are already backed up at the security check. Happily the turnstiles begin to work again and we are both into the stadium and up the steps to the upper tier; we make our way to as near to the half way line as we can get. It is a ‘sit where you like night’ tonight in this part of the stadium because there will be displaced supporters from behind the north goal where the seats will remain empty after fans threw objects onto the pitch during the recent derby match with Quevilly-Rouen.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Stade Océane is only six years old, it cost 80 million euros, it has a few more than 25,000 seats and the two I sit in were more comfortable, spacious and felt much more solid than the average football stadium seat; they even have a smooth spring action to tip up. I sit in two different seats because the bloke just along from my first seat is puffing an e-cigarette, which emits clouds of sickly fruit scented vapour that make me feel slightly ill; he also has quite a pungent body spray so it is doubly necessary to move a bit further away. I can’t believe that his natural smell was so bad that he had to go to such desperate lengths to cover it up.
The players warm up on the pitch as the ground fills up; eventually the ground will be almost exactly half full, which with a nice sense of numerical symmetry is about twice as full as it is has been for most Ligue 2 games this season. The teams are introduced in the customary French manner with the stadium announcer providing players’ first names and the crowd shouting out their surnames, it’s a lot of fun but I don’t think it would work as well with English surnames. Banners display the club crests and the teams enter

the arena. There is a band of ultras in one corner at the southern end of the ground they wave flags and then sing the national anthem, the British national anthem, which for Le Havre is the club song. (https://youtu.be/Wy2MhV8sFyw) Havre Athletic Club is France’s oldest football club, founded in 1872 by a bunch of Englishmen from Oxford and Cambridge universities, so possibly a Tory cabinet, and this English connection explains the use of Thomas Arne’s tune.
Le Havre kick-off the match towards the empty Tribune Nord wearing what is possibly an Oxbridge inspired kit of Cambridge blue and Oxford blue quarters with Oxford blue shorts and socks. Alternatively, the two blues could be of those of the sky and the sea as HAC are known as Ciel et Marine (sky and sea); two things that are prominent in Le Havre and somehow define the city and it situation. Tours meanwhile wear all white, but with blue and white checked sleeves. Havre are quickly on the attack passing the ball zippily on the lush playing surface and soon earn a corner and within four minutes the beautifully named Zinedine Ferhat crosses from the right and Jean-Philippe Mateta sends a fine header into the bottom left hand corner of the Tours goal. Six minutes later and a precise through ball from Jean-Pascal Fontaine precedes a right foot shot from Mateta and Havre are winning two-nil, with Tours having explained graphically why they are bottom of the league. That’s all that needs to happen this evening, if Havre can keep the score as it is they will be in les barrages. To an extent it seems that they realise this and after such an exciting opening ten minutes the game settles down to be not quite so exciting.
It takes twenty minutes for Tours to have a shot and despite the score the Le Havre supporters don’t seem overly thrilled; perhaps they are not wanting to tempt fate by celebrating too soon. The ultras provide another rendition of the club song, but the most interesting development is in the stand where some people complain to a steward about

two blokes who are stood at the top of the steps watching the game. The young steward is pressured into asking them to sit down or at least move because it seems they are blocking the view, which they may well be. The older of the men, who looks well in his fifties gesticulates and argues but eventually moves, walking past his accusers and jabbing his index figure at them angrily; it’s marginally more entertaining than the match, although Tours are now having more shots and their Baptiste Etcheverria is booked by referee Monsieur Olivier Thual for a rather violent assault on the impressive Zinedine Ferhat. Meanwhile, the other man who had been ‘outted’ for standing moves to stand at the side of the stairs and lights a cigarette.
All around the open sections of the ground there are people standing in the area at the

back of the lower tier, and skulking in the Tribune Sud behind the completely empty away supporters’ area are masses of police, all just watching the game apparently. I don’t know if the police were expecting Tours fans who never turned up; perhaps they were delayed, but heard the score after nine minutes and decided not to bother; it is a three and a half hour drive after all. With about five minutes to go until half time some rhythmic clapping breaks out and then the ultras sing another burst of ‘God Save The Queen’ as they hold their scarves aloft like English football fans used to before the Premier League spoiled everything.
Half-time arrives and I head downstairs to release some of that Ch’ti that I drank before the match and have since processed as nature demands. Passage downstairs however, is

difficult because bizarrely and surely contrary to safety requirements, the bottom of staircases E3 and E4 are blocked off with Heras fencing. This may be an odd attempt to keep the people who have paid 10 Euros for a seat out of the centre of the stand where normal prices have been charged, but it just has the effect of making people in the cheap seats walk through the central section to get to an open staircase. Down in the lower concourse children are playing on bouncy castles and the light shining through plastic outer ‘skin’ of the stadium creates a bluish hue. At the back of the lower tier people stand and smoke.

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The football returns and the scoreboard encourages the fans to get behind the team; “Faites Du Bruit” it announces, “Make Some Noise”. The ultras obey but no one else much does. On the opposite side of the stadium is the directors box and it amuses me a little that above this are the words “Shopping, Restaurants, Loisirs (leisure)”, as if advertisingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the thoughts of the wealthy people in the seats below. In the players’ tunnel a man in a suit, presumably a club official, lolls casually against the concrete wall with his hand on his hip, perhaps summing up in his casual posture the

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apparent attitude to the ongoing failure tonight to promote supporter safety in the Tribune Est (East Stand) opposite. A procession of people descend the steps of the Tribune Est expecting to be able to go down the staircase to the toilets or buvette, but of course they find the foot of the stairs closed. A small girl gets quite distressed until led away by her older brothers and an elderly man looks equally perplexed when he finds his way barred. There is no easy way to the other staircases except by walking along whole rows of seats and asking people to stand up to let you through. I just hope there is no need to evacuate the stand quickly.
As the game approaches its final minutes, at last a tangible sense of anticipation and excitement returns to supporters other than the ultras. There is clapping and singing and the fans at last seem confident that their team is capable of holding on to a 2-0 lead against the league’s bottom club and despite three minutes of time added on they do. Le Havre qualify for the play-offs where they will be at home to Stade Brestois 29, another club from a great French port that was also bombed heavily by the allies towards the end of World War Two. We leave the supporters to celebrate without us in order to head for the navette, because we’re not sure what time it will leave.
It has been a good night, but a slightly disappointing one nevertheless. The Stade Océane is fabulous, but has not been shown at its best and its management tonight has been nothing short of alarming. Everything is in place for football to be memorable in Le Havre, but the club really needs that promotion.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

LOSC Lille 1 Montpellier HSC 1

After a wet, drizzly afternoon enjoying an exhibition of marionettes at the Hospice Comtesse,

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a rather groovy establishment called ‘The Beerstro’ and then the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle, the Grand Finale is an eight o’clock kick-off at the Stade Pierre Mauroy where LOSC Lille meet Montpellier Hérault in the 29th Journee of Ligue 1. Montpellier sit in 6th position in the twenty-team French league, whilst Lille flounder uncharacteristically just one place off the bottom, battling against relegation. I am with my wife Paulene and after a relaxed, light meal we head for the Gambetta Metro station. It’s a little after six o’clock and as the streets begin to dry with warm air up moving up from the south, so the Lillois are venturing out to drink, to dine and to watch football. At Gambetta station the escalator is out of action and at the foot of the stairs a ticket man greets us; somehow he instantly detects that we are English and calls out over his shoulder “Alain! Ils sont Anglais”. A smiling, balding man in glasses walks over to us “Awright?” he says and we shake hands. He continues to talk to us in English with a strange hint of an estuarine accent; he must have learnt English in Dartford or Thurrock. He explains the system of rechargeable tickets and although the ticket itself costs 0.20E he lets us have one for free and on to this one ticket we add four journeys for the trip to the stadium and back (6.40E). Alain even validates our tickets for us before we thank him and bid “Au revoir” and descend down onto the platform. What a lovely bloke. The driverless trains on the Lille Metro are frequent and one soon draws up alongside the automatic doors at the edge of the platform. We step on and sit at the front of the carriage, a siren sounds, the doors close and we’re soon hurtling along through concrete tunnels beneath the city

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above. The stadium is the twelfth stop on our mostly subterranean journey, although it is possible to alight at any of the four stops from Villeneuve d’Ascq onwards and the stadium is still easily walkable. People board and leave the train along the route at Republique Beaux-Arts, Gare Lille-Flandres, Caulier, Fives and Marbrerie, some sport red and navy blue knitwear betraying their support for the local team. Before the end of the line at 4 Cantons

Stade Pierre Mauroy, the train rises out of the ground on to an elevated section and just like the last time I made this journey I am for a minute or two Guy Montag and my wife is Clarisse (Julie Christie) in Francois Truffaut’s film of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. But it soon passes. From the Metro station it’s a ten minute walk to the stadium through a university campus and science park, past the student accommodation called residence Albert Camus; a much cooler name than Essex House, where I lived in my first year at university. It’s dusk and the stadium and its great neon name is visible through

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the black branches of the trees that line our route. The path then opens out onto a wide bridge across Lille’s peripherique motorway and Stade Pierre Mauroy is directly in front of us. To the left a broad concrete piazza is filled with French football fans, and the smell of chips and hot oil. The sun sets behind the stadium to the left, turning the clouds a blurry red and casting ruddy reflections in the puddles; adding some late colour to what has been a grey day.

It’s northern France; Belgium with added je ne sais crois, but similar quantities of frites and beer. Low buildings face the stadium across the piazza, a parade of fast food outlets and bars. Further on the crowds diminish and we pass a large area set aside for cycle parking. Although the stadium is some way from central Lille, next to the motorway and has masses of covered car parking beneath and around it, the French planners were clearly optimistic for sustainable travel and there are two concrete canopied blocks of covered cycle racks in which I sadly count just two bikes and a bloke having a smoke.

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At gate M my wife chooses to go inside, get comfortable and watch the warm ups before the match, but I want to wander about a bit and so we part. I walk around to the ‘front’ of the stadium where it faces the road and the retail park opposite. There is a trailer here from which more chips are being dispensed, the queue of ‘diners’ snakes out of the descending darkness and into the bright light spilling out from above the deep fat fryers.

I walk on, following four members of the Police National, who bristle with shields and kevlar armour. A neon display advertises a future event at the stadium, a concert by the Pink Floyd pensioner, Roger Waters; its title ‘Us and Them’ will seem fateful by the end of the evening. At the ‘corner’ of the stadium is the club shop, red letters spelling out LOSC glow in the windows and fans walking past are silhouetted in its light. Inside the shop, the colour of the club shirt, red, is overwhelming; the colour red is everywhere it seems,

WW2 night-time bomber pilots could have spent time in here to improve their night vision. But to me there is more than a hint of the subcutaneous, of viscera; this is the sort of place to give a sensitive person like me nightmares. Feeling queasy I head back outside for the fresh air and then re-trace my steps back to gate M where after the customary patting down I pass through the automatic, bar-code operated turnstile, pick up my free programme and head for my seat. Re-united with Mrs Brooks I study the sixteen-page A5 size glossy programme, which contains just three advertisements not directly related to the club. The programme is small and necessarily concise and all the more excellent for that, with everything you need to know, which is really just the squads, the league table and details of the next match. If you crave extraneous information such as forward Anwar El Ghazi’s recipe for lentil soup then there is a fortnightly club paper available in the club shop, ‘LOSC in the City’, which is also free. As I read, a superannuated looking band perform live from the side of the pitch. I think they’re playing the Sex Pistol’s ‘Problems’ but Paulene tells me it’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I’m a bit disappointed to be honest and their rocked-up version of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ doesn’t please me either , but to my possible shame in these modern times, they’re next number, Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, makes me smile. My reading and musical reverie however, is disturbed by a large bang and some chanting from outside the ground; I had seen on the local TV station that there was to be demonstration by supporters before the game because of the poor performance of the team this season, and this must be it. I walk out to the back of the stand to witness through the mesh wall and some acrid smoke a couple of hundred fans following a bloke holding aloft a red flare; more firecrackers go off and there is some chanting. Excitement over, I return to my seat. Many of the other seats in the stadium are still unoccupied, particularly those on the Virage Est (East Stand) that the Lille Ultras occupy. It is soon evident however, that the ultras were the protestors as the Virage Est sees a torrent of flag waving humanity flood towards the back of the goal.

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Meanwhile a female announcer gees up the crowd with some disco music and a dance-cam

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shows supporters boogeying insanely on the big screen above the Virage Est. People seem to be enjoying themselves at a football match which hasn’t even started yet. On the pitch everything is being set up for the grand entry of the teams. Ball boys in orange shirts are camped across the centre circle, the Ligue 1 logo is carried out and put into place along with the sponsor’s logo (Conforama – a furniture retailer) and the match ball is placed on a plinth.

Banners featuring the club badges flank the ball and plinth and another banner displaying the Ligue 1 logo and then more banners are marched on to the field, these are red and bear the squad numbers and a photos of the players in tonight’s Lille team. As if all these banners aren’t enough a short film is played on the big screen which follows a journey around the city of Lille and shows images of LOSC players projected onto its most notable sites and buildings, culminating in all the players being projected on to the Stade Pierre Mauroy. It is a mightily impressive little film and conveys brilliantly the ideal of the club and the city and its people as one, I am not a little moved by all it all and wish for a day when I see something like it in Ipswich. We shouldn’t be leaving the EU, we should be saying can we forget about ‘being English’ and instead be French, or German, or Italian or even Belgian. The final act of the pre-match rituals is the singing of the club song, to the tune of Amazing Grace.

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The words appear on the giant screen and the singing hasn’t finished before referee Monsieur Sebastien Moreira, a stocky bald man, signals the start of the game. Montpellier in all white with pale orange shoulders have the first kick, in the direction of the Virage Est but it’s as if they are mesmerised by the club song, they pass the ball about and then as the song melts away immediately lose possession. That strange, musically accompanied start aside, it’s an exciting start to the game, with both teams dashing towards their opponent’s goal at every opportunity. Montpellier’s 19 year old Jonathan Ikone, a loanee from Paris St Germain, leads the charge and his team dominate the early possession, understandably believing that against the team second from bottom in the league, they are bound to score if they keep pressing. A Montpellier shot is soon saved by Mike Maignan, Lille’s goalkeeper. Montpellier are good to watch, they’re fast and direct even if most attacks break down before anyone has a shot. Lille burst forward when they can, particularly through Algerian Yassine Benzia who has the facial hair of a swarthy Mr Pickwick and his arms look unusually long; he is also the first player to be cautioned by referee Monsieur Moreira. Montpellier’s Ellyes Shkiri is injured and replaced by Saloman Sambia, but their forty year old Brazilian captain

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Vittorino Hilton

Vittorino Hilton, a veteran even six years ago when Montpellier won Ligue 1, plays on. Although the early excitement dies down a little as defences settle into their roles, the Ultras behind both goals never waver and give constant support, their beating drums being the beating heart and rhythm of the match. Each end sings their own songs, and then call to one another down the pitch. It sounds marvellous, even though the Ultras make up no more than five thousand in a crowd of 28,609 in a stadium that holds nearly twice that number . With less than five minutes until half-time, Yassine Benzia surges forward again for Lille, running at the centre of the Montpellier defence. Leaving two, then three Montpellierians in his wake Benzia pushes the ball forward into the path of Nicholas Pepe who is sprinting into the penalty area. Pepe takes a touch and then sweeps the ball past Benjamin Lecomte in the Montpellier goal. A fast, incisive if slightly unexpected goal. Pepe runs to the corner of the pitch and salutes no one in particular in the way that players like to do nowadays, but then he’s only a young lad of twenty-two. Half-time comes and two teams of boys, one in all white and one in all black, take to the field to participate in something called the Orange Football Challenge; it’s a shoot-out which at first is a non-event as none of the boys is capable of scoring , but eventually one team wins, I think. Both teams get their photo taken in the centre circle before another competition takes place in the far goal as three blokes try to hit the cross-bar with a single kick of the ball from 20 metres. The first contestant steps up and casually succeeds, winning 500 Euros in cash as a result. Predictably the next bloke doesn’t hit the cross-bar, although he’s not too far off, whilst the third slips over and shanks his shot along the grounds six metres wide of the goal. He may never be able to watch or participate in football ever again. As the players return to the field for the second half a camera man sets up in front of us to film people in the crowd who will then appear on the giant screen; as if being at the match isn’t enough you have to be able to see yourself and be seen at the match by other people at the match, although they have actually only come to watch the match; Jean Baudrillard might have something to say about it or may be Michel Foucault. Montpellier run at the Lille defence from the start, with chunky Jerome Roussillon attacking down the left and Paul Lasne down the right. It’s about twenty minutes past eight and Roussillon receives the ball some 20 metres or more from goal; he reacts instantly and dispatches a hard, low shot between the outstretched arm of Mike Maignan and the right hand post of the goal. Montpellier have a deserved equaliser, which their small knot of fans high up in the corner of the stadium

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also deserve for having made the 972 kilometre road trip; it’s no wonder there aren’t many of them, but equally a wonder there are as many as there are. No one boos, despite the dire loss of a winning position and behind the goals the Ultras maintain their support. On the touchline the Montpellier coach Michel Der Zakarian looks thoughtful, stroking his chin in his skinny legged tracky bottoms and shapeless black coat. The Lille coach Christophe Galtier moves between his seat in the stand and the technical area, he wears shiny shoes and a dark suit; he steps out of the technical area and onto the pitch at one point when play has stopped for an injured player and is admonished by the fourth official. Galtier waves his arms about in frustration and as he turns to go back to his seat gestures at the official as if to say ‘fuck you’. My wife likes Christophe Galtier; he’s very French.

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There are three minutes added on time in which both sides press forward seeking the winning goal, but neither finds it. Monsieur Moreira blows the final whistle and almost instantly supporters from the Virage Est begin to run onto the pitch and towards the players tunnel and the seats where the directors and officials are sat. More and more supporters pour onto the field; one or two approach Lille players with a look of complaint. The referee and his assistants are the first down the tunnel. A large crowd has gathered but a cordon of stewards has quickly formed creating a semi-circle around the mouth of the tunnel. Whilst most of the people on the pitch are facing the main stand and chanting something like “ If the club goes down , then you go down” at the club officials, there are a few who are taking selfies with the handful of Montpellier players stranded on the pitch as they went over to applaud their supporters. Scenes like this always look uglier than they are and whilst there are a few kicks and scuffles as stewards feel the need to man-handle some people, the cordon of stewards around the tunnel has controlled the situation. For a football tourist like me local difficulties like this just add to the entertainment, but I do wonder what the point is of these demonstrations. The supporters didn’t complain when the new regime at the club installed previously well-respected Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa and backed him with an overhaul of the squad. Bielsa had been a fabled legend at Marseille but his short tenure at Lille was a disaster and he was first suspended and then sacked as the newly assembled team failed to perform with Lille slumping into the relegation places from early in the season. Watching people stood on the pitch not playing football is only entertaining for a short while and not wanting boredom to spoil what had been an entertaining evening we decide to head back to the Metro of Montag, Julie Christie and Alain.

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Ipswich Town 1 Leeds United 0

Today sees the fourth game at Portman Road in 26 days, it’s as if Town don’t play away from home anymore and I’m getting a bit fed up with it to be honest and hanker after a change of scenery. The wide open spaces of non-league football are ever more attractive compared to the claustrophobic pall of gloom that hangs around Portman Road and seemingly seeps from the pores of so many home ‘supporters’.
But what’s this? Today Ipswich are playing Leeds United and I shall transport myself back to the 1970’s with a scarf tied round my wrist, double denim, feather cut and platforms. In my mind Leeds United embody the 1970’s, that awful but grimly fascinating and rather marvellous decade, and I love to see a game against Leeds United because of that, and also Leeds are guaranteed to bring a good number of supporters who are equally guaranteed to make a noise and create that rare thing at Portman Road, a bit of atmosphere and the sensation that there is a football match taking place.
It is a dull, grey January day as I head for the railway station past flat, featureless, cold

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fields above which a few seagulls circle. At the station I meet Roly who has travelled from Borley and looks slightly disagreeable as he clutches a paper cup of coffee. He admits to having eaten a bacon butty from the station buffet and says that he only feels marginally happier than if he hadn’t eaten it, which for a greedy man like Roly means it was not a good bacon butty.

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The train is three minutes late due to ‘congestion’ attributed to engineering works.
Once on the train we discuss grandmothers sucking eggs and how the use of powdered egg affected this during World War Two; we also discuss the relative merits of the minute’s silence or applause at the start of football matches. I long to be trusted to be respectfully silent in a dead person’s honour as football fans used to be, but Roly points out that there is now an unwritten etiquette of applauses for individuals who have shuffled off the mortal coil naturally, whilst armistice day and terrorist attacks and the like attract a silence. We agree that an applause in the wake of a terrorist attack might be misconstrued, but it nevertheless makes us laugh.

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Arriving in Ipswich we are greeted by a posse of police on the station forecourt. The Station Hotel opposite looks packed, there is condensation on the windows, bums on the window sills and a crowd of Leeds fans occupy the car park and garden.

 

 

It’s not the prettiest riverside setting, but probably makes these Yorkshiremen feel at home, like they’re down by t’canal. Roly and I stroll on and the Leeds United team bus passes us heading towards Portman Road, which is the scene of a military operation. Police vans partly

block the road whilst policemen are strung across the road restricting the easy flow of people along the street. The Leeds team bus has disappeared into the yard behind the Sir Alf Ramsey stand and a group of people clamour around the gates, presumably seeking a glimpse of Leeds players, or maybe they’re bus spotters. We walk on, a group of late-middle aged men meet beneath the hollow gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey’s insouciant statue.

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In St Jude’s Tavern we each drink a pint of today’s ‘match day special’ (£2 a go) which is Elgood’s Festive Feelgood; we talk football and in particular of the myriad of players who have appeared for Town in the last twenty years or so. We speak of Kevin Ellis, who made one appearance against Arsenal in the Premier League 1995, remained at the club for two more years before going to King’s Lynn and never playing another game for a League club. We both have another pint of the ‘match day special’ and then I have a half of St Jude’s Hazelnut Stout (£1.80), partly because I feel guilty about only drinking the cheap beer. It’s only 2.30pm, but Roly is eager to leave so that he can buy a pie; he is probably not obese, but he could easily become so. We part in Portman Road because Roly’s seat is in the posh seats in the East of England Co-operative Stand, where by rights he should get divvy on his pie.
In Portman Road the police are hard at work controlling the crowd for whatever reason, which means not allowing passage behind the Cobbold Stand for home fans and sending us all around the ground and back up Princes Street to get access to the Sir Alf Ramsey

stand. I don’t mind; this scenic route, it makes a change. I buy a programme from a girl in a kiosk on the corner of Alderman Road and pass by the main entrance to the club as a massive black Bentley sweeps through the gate.
By the time I’ve enjoyed my walkabout and the street theatre that the Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary are providing today it’s nearly time for kick –off and the teams are soon on the pitch when I take up my seat. Before the game today there is a minute’s applause for Ted Phillips, one of the greatest players ever to represent Town, who died this week at the age of eighty-four. Ted was in the teams that won the Third Division South, Second Division and First Division championships and in total scored 181 goals in 295 games. We’ll probably not see his like again, definitely not for the twenty-odd quid a week he got paid. I would happily stand and applaud him all afternoon and am very disappointed that his picture is not on the cover of the programme.
The game kicks off and is closely fought, but this is not a Leeds United I recognise, this team is the anti-thesis of the renowned Lilywhites, this team are wearing an all-black kit,

they could be anyone; a team of referees. Leeds United in all-black, it’s just wrong. But happily the Leeds fans are still the same; loud, raucous, foul-mouthed and very heavily stewarded. There are even police inside the stadium today, although strangely they seem to be watching the home fans. Without the Leeds fans this game would be dull like all the others; they have the whole of the Cobbold Stand today and have displaced Ipswich season ticket holders, but it was the right thing to do, it has made this game special and if Ipswich hasn’t got supporters interested in filling the ground and creating a match atmosphere, then let someone in who has. Nevertheless, there are only 18,638 of us here today and that is despite the addition of visiting supporters of Fortuna Dusseldorf who have adopted Town as their English team; we seem to have lost nearly 20,000 people somewhere since Town met Leeds in the FA Cup sixth round in 1975.
There are a lot of fouls in this game, a nostalgic nod to ‘dirty Leeds’ of the 1970’s perhaps, but the fouls are mostly clumsy rather than cynical, niggly or vicious although both teams’ physios are called upon to treat the wounded. Like most Second Division matches nowadays it’s a bit of a mess, as once again levels of effort and running exceed levels of skill. I nevertheless think I see Town captain Luke Chambers quite artfully control the ball and pass it accurately and then look rather pleased with himself; it may just have been a look of surprise however.
It’s not a bad game, but the presence of the noisy away support is carrying it somewhat. It takes until the 19th minute for the first decent shot on goal and this is followed by the news from the Leeds fans through the medium of “Cwm Rhondda” that “your support is fucking shit”. It’s taken them a while to realise this but they got there in the end. It doesn’t look like either team is particularly likely to score and then in the 37th minute the odds on a goal shift in Town’s favour as Leeds United’s Eunan O’Kane is sent off by referee Robert Jones for an off the ball assault (headbutt)on Town’s Jonas Knudsen.

 

Everyone loves a sending off, if it’s not one of their own players. Kane must walk the full length of the pitch and a Leeds fan set off a fire cracker, the loud crack and the smoke just add to the drama and excitement.

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After four minutes of time added on for injuries and sundry stoppages, during whichOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Town’s on-loan Kosovan Bersant Celina hits a post with a shot, the imposing Mr Roberts, who likes to stand with his hands on his hips, blows his whistle for half-time. I head down to the concourse and devour a piece of left-over Christmas cake that I had brought with me in lieu of thebacon butties or pies that others might eat to see them through the afternoon. I gaze up at the TV set delivering the half-time scores and first half stats, which are clearly wrong. I learn that I could buy a hospitality package for £35 plus VAT. I look at the programme and am impressed by the diversity of the Leeds squad with players from fifteen different countries. Ipswich players come from just seven countries, and one of them is Wales. The Leeds squad also has some fine surnames, my favourites being Roofe and Grot although Borthwick-Jackson and Peacock-Farrell also deserve a mention. Inside the programme there is a tribute to Ted Phillips, but if as the tribute says he is a legend, and he is, it should probably run to several pages, not just two. Also in the programme is the usual piece from club captain Luke Chambers. Luke is in philosophical mood today and amongst other nuggets says “I think football stadiums in general have become places where supporters can vent their frustrations over 90 minutes, sometimes that frustration comes from life as much as football. You see it everywhere now ”. It’s a very funny read.
For the second half I decide to sit with Pat from the Clacton-On-sea branch of the supporters club because the people near where Pat sits seem to have a bit more life in them, although they don’t really sing either, and at least when I do they laugh. The players and officials return to the pitch and Mr Roberts crosses himself, which is pure showmanship and not really becoming of a referee, but hey-ho.
The Leeds fans are still in good voice and treat the home crowd to renditions of “We all love Leeds and Leeds and Leeds” to the tune of ‘The Dambusters’ March’. Soon afterwards the chant of choice switches to “ We are Leeds, We are Leeds, We are Leeds” to no particular tune at all and then “When the Whites (sic) Go Marching In”, forgetting that their team is wearing all black, which may be why they previously had to remind themselves that they are Leeds.
Ipswich’s superiority in numbers isn’t making very much difference, although they are having more possession than usual and Leeds are not looking very likely to score. It will take a moment of very inept play or one of special skill to get a goal from this game and surprisingly it’s the latter that comes to pass in the 67th minute. Bursant Celina receives the ball from a throw-in on the left; he drifts in towards the centre of the field running sideways like a stray dog before suddenly unleashing a beautiful, gently dipping, but powerful shot into the corner of the Leeds goal. It truly is a thing of beauty, mostly because it is scored by someone in an Ipswich shirt.
Ipswich should really press home their advantage even more now, but they don’t, although they are the dominant team.

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At the side of the pitch the managers and coaches are animated, the Spanish Leeds manager looking sharp in a smart, tailored coat, Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor looking like a couple of scallies in anoraks and tracky bottoms.

 

A Leeds substitute comes on with his socks turned up over his knees so that he is in black from neck to toe like a mime artist, but for some reason he also reminds me of Papa Lazarou in League of Gentlemen. The Leeds players become frustrated, particularly their Swedish centre-half Pontus Jansson who deserves an award for succeeding in getting the bulk of the North Stand lower tier to sing loudly in unison; to the tune of Cwm Rhondda, they chant, even if it is just to ask “Who the fuck, Who the fuck, Who the fuckin’ ‘ell are you?” and then, after presumably consulting their programmes to answer their own curiosity “Jansson, Jansson, you’re a cunt”. The upshot is that Jansson is booked by Mr Roberts, possibly for having inspired the putting of rude words to a hymn tune, but more probably for persistent fouling.
There is not long left but Town have to hold out against a late Leeds onslaught in which goalkeeper Dean Gerken saves the day with a fine dive to his right to parry away a shot from Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who is German. Finally however, Mr Roberts calls time; it has been an enjoyable afternoon for several reasons; Ipswich have won, the goal was spectacular and the opposition have had a player sent off, but also because of the presence of the Leeds fans who have created an atmosphere usually so sadly lacking at Portman Road. I am look forward to next season’s game already, if I can survive all the dreary ones in between.