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October 8, 2016 – Yellow Sports Big Match
Colchester United 0-0 Newport County
I’m pretty sure the vast majority amongst the 3,088 crowd knew what was coming.
Even at this relatively early stage of the season, Colchester United’s attempts to mount a successful Sky Bet League Two promotion push was sailing desperately close to the rocks. Beleaguered visitors, Newport County, arrived anchored to the bottom of the Football League with just a single success from their opening nine games. It was a banker for the U’s – a chance to make ground on the play-off places and end a concerning run of four without a win – but once again, John McGreal’s men fell flat, swiftly ran out of ideas and continued to flounder some way from the ambitions of their faithful fans.
Of course, Colchester had their moments. Drey Wright and Curtis Guthrie went close, as did Jon Parkin – his crisp volley turned aside by Sam Walker as the Exiles looked to double their money for the campaign. But its wasn’t to be. Half-hearted booing greeted the final whistle – the pre-match pint might well need the help of a chaser to get this drab goalless encounter out of the system.
I posted my thoughts to the Yellow Advertiser website then started to make my way towards the tunnel. There wasn’t too much to chew the fat over with Mr McGreal today. A young journalist made his way down the steps with me; “That’s ninety minutes of my life I won’t get back,” he muttered nonchalantly in my direction.
But despite the meagre offerings, the youthful scribe was talking to the wrong person. I’ve always been a ‘glass half full’ person – particularly since I first took my place in the pressbox.
I consider myself an accidental journalist. I started writing football stories after we lost dad. An East Londoner and seasoned railwayman from the days of steam. The old man favoured West Ham, but would happily watch football anywhere, sharing his stories and enjoying the players, even if they played for the most bitter of rivals.
Dad left us on Christmas Day, 2003. His big, but apparently clapped out heart called time. I desperately tried to revive him but he drew his final breath just as the ambulance crew reached us – seasons greetings!
Moments like that remain with you forever. They leave you stunned and constantly reflecting – what could I have done differently? Evidently nothing I’m constantly told. I’m affraid that will never seem enough.
Subsequently, when the dust settled, I realised there was something, albeit miniscule, I could do to keep him at the fore of our minds. I could put dads footballing thoughts down on a piece of paper. If nothing else to offer my new-born son an opportunity to get to know the Grandpa he would never meet. And so it began.
Now, this was never going to be an easy pathway. For a start, I’d never so much switched on a computer, let alone used one. Nevertheless, a series of tutorials from my ever so tolerant wife, Victoria, set me on my way and the freshly stored recollections soon began to mount up.
To cut a long story short, things began to move in mysterious ways. Firstly, my local non-league football club, Great Wakering Rovers, began publishing my tales in their match programme. One thing led to another and I started providing them with the odd match report. I certainly couldn’t have envisaged what would evolve over the coming years.
Other opportunities arrived, both writing and talking about my passion for sport, including an invitation to provide a non-league football column to the Yellow Advertiser. It was all a bit of a whirlwind – things swiftly evolved. As my ability developed, regular ventures to Southend Manor and Great Wakering were soon complemented by trips to Dagenham & Redbridge, Southend United and as today, Colchester.
Previously, I had spent a lifetime working in dirty and in some cases desperately depressing, factories. Initially some where health and safety was a taboo subject. I’d listened to elderly men tell tales of how they had started on the shop floor the day they left school and believed there was no way out for them. They had accepted that this was what they did. The chance to work in the fresh air, offering my two pennies’ worth on the game I loved directed me on a different route and I was keen to see where it would lead.
The pressbox at West Ham and Tottenham became regular haunts. Bitter rivals but somehow united in their contrasting discontentment. The Hammers, a club with enormous potential but often finding themselves grappling with their own shadow in the bottom half of the table while Spurs constantly scale the proverbial heights before tripping desperately when in sight of the summit. I felt the fans’ frustrations and have always tried to incorporate that into my reports – the drama, pleasure and pain become ingrained. You want them to succeed, you want to look back and say I wrote about the times they smiled.
Not that there haven’t been some wonderful moments – all the Yellow Sport teams have provided them in abundance. Covering my beloved Southend United at Wembley Stadium was a dream come true. West Ham’s Boleyn Ground finale, a dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester United, ranks as one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen while covering Tottenham to the UEFA Champions League Final in Madrid was an achievement far beyond my wildest dreams from that first moment I opened my laptop at a leafy Burroughs Park with Ivy growing in the pressbox. And this is only skimming the surface! Leyton Orient involved in a tremendous play-off final, huge cup matches for the U’s – Whatever the outcome, I’ve cherished every minute.
Anyway, I’m waffling – back to today, well, October 8, 2016 – you know what I mean. That young reporter appears relatively uninterested with John McGreal’s offerings. The Colchester boss expresses his disappointment that his side was unable to break down a Newport side that has, for the time being, forgotten how to win.
Of course, it’s disappointing not to be able to provide our loyal readers with a goal, but now and then it’s par for the course as a regional football reporter. But somehow Colchester’s unremarkable performance that day has stuck with me and with the world currently entrenched in a deeply concerning situation seems particularly relevant today.
I wasn’t distressed by the goalless encounter I had witnessed, far from it. This is my dream job. For me, an awful football match will always be better than the best day on the factory floor – I fully appreciate that and I’ve never forgotten it.
As I put together this piece, the planet is under siege from an invisible enemy. Life has never been so different for our generation. Constant worry over the wellbeing of friends and relatives – locked in our own space, unable to venture beyond the garden gate. Things we take for granted like an evening at the pub, going to the pictures or even a walk to the shops already seeming like a lifetime ago and with no timescale on when those simple privileges will return.
That goes for football as well. My diary, filled in months ago, informs me of this weekends schedule. It’s Easter, a busy time, Southend v Wycombe Wanderers, Tottenham v Everton, Wolves v Arsenal – all now mothballed while we collectively search and hope for some light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Remember our reporter friend? Those ninety minutes in North Essex will undoubtedly have paled into insignificance now. Like me, I’m sure he’d love to sit through a boring 0-0, or even stand on the terraces as his first true love suffer a four-goal drubbing.
Back to the present; It’s been a month since I covered Arsenal’s single goal victory over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium – lockdown swiftly ensued. It was far from a classic, I’m sure those amongst the sixty-thousand and something crowd would agree.
But one thing’s for certain, whatever team you support – however good or bad – striding majestically in hope to our respective theatre of dreams – getting a hammering of your local rivals – sharing the stands together – reading the programme – supping on a half-time cuppa – expressing a full range of emotions – and for most of us, wallowing in our self-pity at another inept performance – the next match we are privileged to see will be the best football match ever!
Stay safe, everybody – Much love – Jeevesie x
Colchester United: Sam Walker, Richard Brindley, Tom Eastman, Lewis Kinsella (Cameron James 46′), Alex Wynter, Tariqe Fosu-Henry (Dion Sembie-Ferris 61′), Craig Slater, Sammie Szmodics, Drey Wright, Kurtis Guthrie, Chris Porter (Denny Johnson 70′) Subs not used: Dillon Barnes (GK), Dexter Peter, Diaz Wright, Femi Akinwande
Newport County: Joe Day, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Paul Bignot, Dan Butler, Jon Parkin, Scot Bennett, Darren Jones, Ben Tozer, Jennison Myrie-Williams (Sean Rigg 68′), Reece Grego-Cox (Jordan Green 81′), Rhys Healey (Marlon Jackson 75′) Subs not used: James Bittner (GK), Liam Angel, Jack Compton, Mark Randall
Referee: Mark Haywood