Bostik Matchday: Small, but perfectly formed

Coggeshall Town took on Witham Town in the FA Cup. And all was beautiful- despite the weather.

Around two months ago Coggeshall Town fan James Partridge, writing for our ‘Taking a Bostik Bow’ series, took on the role of Tourist Advisor for his town with gusto. He described the ground- the wonderful club house, the local real ale it serves, the ‘locally made sausage rolls that are a meal in themselves-’ and then moved on to talk about the town, its hostelries, its historical buildings, its restaurants and the vineyard near to the ground. Whilst the entire series was well received, the Coggeshall article was perhaps the most widely read and commented on, as fans from across the North Division licked their lips at the idea of marvellous food and Red Fox beer.

Given that this was only the Seed Growers second home match of the season, we* thought that, for the sake of balance, we’d arrive early and test these facilities. After all, James may have been funded by the Town Council and we may have unwittingly become the victims of unscrupulous Coggeshall product placement. Sadly the need to preserve a driving licence ensured that not every facility received a thorough inspection, but we can confirm, here and now, that Coggeshall is truly fabulous. Small, but perfectly formed.

Anyway, enough of that. You’re here for the football, aren’t you?

The Coggeshall carpet

The Coggeshall carpet

So were BT Sport, James Beardwell and a cast of 309 (although James Beardwell tends to sound like a cast of 309 all on his own). Sadly Coggeshall co-owner Olly Murs was missing- “at a wedding”, apparently. The teenage girls of the world will be glad to hear it wasn’t his own.

Murs and his Seed Growers have been the subject of many column inches this week, particularly in the red topped tabloid owned by that Australian octogenarian. In an article entitled ‘Wembolly’ (sorry, we’re just quoting the headline, we didn’t come up with it), thirteen-million selling Olly spoke about the excitement around the club, who were finally playing in the FA Cup after 140 years without ever taking part, how he first got involved by initially providing some funding before taking on the role of co-owner alongside manager Graeme Smith, and how he loves being away from the music industry and amongst ‘real people’ rather than the fakes you can find in his day job.

‘That is non-league,’ he explains. ‘Fans can mix with the players, manager and chairman in the bar after the game. You feel part of it.’ He goes on to describe the delights of the Seed Growers, the three or four year plan the club has, and how the aim is to get to the First Round Proper, which would be ‘like winning the competition itself.’ Indeed, he does a superb job of promoting our game, apart from failing in the task of getting the journalist interviewing him to spell Bostik correctly. Although given the amount of time they spent writing about Billericay last season, you’d think they’d be able to manage that without his help, wouldn’t you?

Today’s visitors, Witham Town, are far better known to Bostik audiences, having been an Isthmian League club for all but three of the last thirty years. Indeed, they are probably better known to national audiences as well, despite the best efforts of The Sun, due to the actions of Witham Town superfan James Beardwell- who sprung to fame last year after being videoed singing solo at Parkside before ‘going viral.’. James was, of course, here tonight- and will be back on Monday for the rematch in the North Division, only on Monday he will walk the entire way with a collection of officials and supporters to raise money for his beloved club. Tonight he came by bus, and despite the distance between the two towns being only eight miles, “had to get a bus to Braintree and then another one here.” A sad indictment on the state of our public transport system- although in truth he seemed to have quite enjoyed it.

James, Teddy, Elliott and George

James, Teddy, Elliott and George

James, as always, was confident of victory. And rather precise. “Three-one, with goals from Sam Ashford (2) and Johnny Ashman (1)." He was also looking forward to heading back here on Monday, when he expected another victory, but then, you already knew that. Tonight he wasn’t singing alone, he had three young acolytes, Teddy (“Two-one to Witham Town”), Elliott (“Two-one to Witham Town again”), and George (“Two-one, with Ashford and Ashman getting one goal each.”).

There was a similar confidence amongst the Coggeshall faithful. Chris, with sons Ollie and George, predicted a 3-1 home win (“although we might not win on Monday”), whilst Ollie went for 2-1 and George agreed with his Dad (sensible, George. Very sensible). Asked about his club, Chris was clear about what a great place Coggeshall was both to watch and play football. “We have children playing here from the age of four, and then we have teams from Under 7’s right through to Under 18’s. And we all come and watch, too- it’s a great community club, and most of the village will be here to watch tonight. We all know each other, we all get on, and the atmosphere is always friendly, towards all visitors, home and away. And look at that pitch!”

He gestured at the pristine playing surface, which at first glance had looked as if it was 3G, but turned out to be, most assuredly, grass. “After the summer we’ve had, to have a pitch like that is superb. Mind you, the Fire Brigade help occasionally. They come down and set up pumps by the river over there-“ he pointed beyond the far perimeter- “to water it for us.” Well their work is appreciated by all!

Witham kicked off, in yellow, playing towards the car park end (it may have another name, but it wasn’t obvious!) but it was the Seed Growers- in their usual black and red stripes- who quickly fashioned the first chance, a first minute free kick headed wide by skipper Luke Wilson. The speed of the centre forward, Nnamdi Nwachuku already looked as if it may turn out to be significant, as he left a defender for dead only to be thwarted by letting the ball run slightly too far ahead of him. Then in the fourth minute another free kick saw Wilson again get above the defence, but this time his header landed on the roof of the net. “It won’t be nil-nil,” came a voice from the front of the stand. “They look like they are wearing the Arsenal away kit," came another voice to the right. “But there’s more atmosphere here than at the Emirates.” Wilson, sadly, then departed injured.

On ten minutes a flash of lightning lit up the sky, followed by a rumble of thunder. Far enough away not to cause concern just yet, but a wind had got up and was rippling the Witham Town flags behind the goal. A dark cloud floated above the pitch, and a number of worried faces looked skyward, but it remained dry- for now. Witham had been on the receiving end of most of the early exchanges but were coming back into the game as we approached the end of the first fifteen minutes, with the away number nine, L’Heureux Menga, now prominent.

Chris with Ollie and George

Chris with Ollie and George

And then the heavens opened. And boy, did they open. It was at around this point that we discovered that the stand roof leaks.

Witham had the best chance of the match so far in the 22nd minute, but it came from an agricultural ball into the box from a half way line free kick rather than from any particular finesse, and was eventually cleared away from a yard in front of the line. Both sides had looked quite capable of creating chances and delivering entertaining football, but the worry was that the monsoon they were playing in might lead to errors and impact on the match as a spectacle. Certainly the ball was now spending rather a long time in the air, whereas previously it had been aimed to feet. As if to prove this, a ball aimed into the box then seemed to squirm from the Coggeshall keeper James Bransgrove’s grasp, and from the resulting corner he had to touch the ball wide, before not being able to hold the next one- but on that occasion he was given the benefit of the doubt and a free kick from the referee.

Nine minutes before the break a foul on Menga brought a free kick thirty five yards out. Jack Isherwood seemed to slip as he kicked the ball, and it went through to the home keeper without a forward getting near it. A moment later and Isherwood was slipping once more to concede a foul at the other end, the Seed Growers free kick drifting past the far post with nobody getting a touch. The Fire Brigade wouldn’t be required to water the surface for a while yet.

As we approached the interval the biggest crowd response of the night so far came when the ball bounced along the roof of the stand after a wild clearance. “Bang, bang, bang,” came the sound of leather on corrugated steel. Perhaps it had woken a few people up; fans at the back of the stand were already discussing when the replay would be played. It had become that sort of game.

Witham didn't surrender!

Witham didn't surrender!

The whistle blew, and everyone wandered off to queue for a burger in the rain. They certainly smelled marvellous.

The rain was still coming down like stair rods as the players emerged from the second half, to be met by Beardwell with a clapper- as if he needed more volume. The home side then warmed up by doing what looked suspiciously like a rain dance, which was perhaps a little unnecessary in the circumstances.

The home side were once again the quickest out of the blocks, and on 49 minutes almost took the lead. A slip from Danny Norton brought a foul just outside the box and a yellow card, and a whipped free kick from Daniel Cunningham was met by the head of George Cocklin, only for Witham keeper Luca Collins to touch it onto the bar and out for a corner. It was a super save, from by far the best chance of the match so far. Coggeshall kept up the pressure, but the Witham defence held firm, until, in the 55th minute, Aaron Condon managed to find space in the box and crashed a shot against the bar. Norton fired a shot wide at the other end, but the ascendency was definitely with the home side.

The pitch was partially responsible for the next booking, too, as home sub Josh Pollard lost control of the ball and then slid in slightly-out-of-control of his feet in his attempt to retrieve it, but Coggeshall soon had the ball back and control of the game. Another free kick from Cunningham had to be touched over the bar, and you felt a goal was coming. Nwachuku then had a shot which seemed to slip from Collins grasp but was claimed at the second attempt. The rain continued to fall, and smoke from the barbecue drifted over the far end of the ground, like the emissions of a meaty flare. And if we have to have pyrotechnics, that would surely be the best kind.

Large quantities of meat products, this way!

Large quantities of meat products, this way!

A foul by Tyler Corlett on Cocklin brought a yellow card for the Witham defender, despite his protests- which given he’d already been warned repeatedly and got nowhere near the ball were rather a surprise. We moved into the last twenty minutes, with Coggeshall still looking the most likely, and yet struggling to create another clear- cut chance.

Nwachuku, who had looked the most likely scorer throughout, created himself a chance in the eightieth minute, his shot cannoning off the leg of Andrew Tirivanhu. It could have gone anywhere, but it went wide, and led to a corner which was followed by another. Whilst we waited for the second Nwachuku departed for the bench, rather surprisingly, and whilst the corner caused consternation in the Witham defence pressure on the ball stopped any meaningful shot on goal and it was cleared once more. We moved into the last five minutes, and more replay chatter began in earnest in the stand.

More Coggeshall pressure came to naught, and almost 5 minutes added time brought as many goals as the previous ninety. “Yellows, Yellows,” bellowed Beardwell, something else that hadn’t changed. And then the whistle went, and the crowd drifted off, good natured discussion permeating the still wet Essex night.

These two sides will be sick of the sight of each other over the next two weeks. A league game in Coggeshall on Monday will now be followed by a replay in Witham, and on the basis of tonight’s performances it will be difficult to predict who will come out on top on any of these occasions. Coggeshall attacked with some flair, and undoubtedly had the best chances, but Witham defended doggedly throughout, never giving up, putting pressure on every ball and- the two strikes on the woodwork apart- never looking likely to be breached.

Clubhouse, balcony and BT Sport

Clubhouse, balcony and BT Sport

How Coggeshall will do over the course of the season rather than the next fortnight is difficult to predict. Supporter Chris, speaking before the game, had mentioned that there was a real step up in class this season, and it obviously worried him, but perhaps on the basis of the match against Bowers & Pitsea and tonight’s efforts- if maybe not the game against Dereham- the Seed Growers had shown that they could cope with the rigours of the Bostik League.

Away fans will love traveling to Coggeshall. A friendly, welcoming club in a beautiful town, it seems that the Seed Growers will certainly be growing friends off the pitch, no matter what happens on it.

(*The word ‘we’ there is rather misleading, for although there is no I in team, in this case the team is I- Ian).

The compulsory corner flag shot- not from quite the right angle!

The stand in the sunshine (we soon lost that element to another)

The stand begins to fill up, half an hour before kick off

More flags than fans? Not tonight!

Where next?

Traditional rivals come together to help Isla Charity match at Aveley FC TOMORROW (Sunday 26th August) sees the Geordies and the Mackems take on the Irons and the Lions
It's FA Cup weekend- and the action starts tonight! A preview of this weekend's FA Cup action

Coggeshall Town Video playlist

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