The Joy of Essex – Brentwood 1 Needham Market 3

Gets a bad press, Essex. But in recent excursions to this sainted shire I’ve yet to see any orange people, cigar-smoking gangsters in sheepskin coats or the ICF.

Seen some cracking games, observed some industrial-scale swearing from just about everyone including most children – these people could make Glaswegians blush – and noticed that front gardens are way out of fashion in this neck of the woods.

If space allows and north of the less salubrious dockside nitty gritty towns, those frontal swards been turned into car showrooms.

No namby-pamby pansies or grass here. Gleaming big beasts abound in Billericay, Canvey Island, Clacton. Blue ones, black ones, red ones, I don’t know what make they are. All look the same to me.

Some mock Georgian homes have up to six in the ex-garden now driveway/car showroom. If they actually use the garage for more than storing spare parts, some families might have more again. Surely someone in this county has a car in the front room?

Despite that, the more non-league visits to this maligned county the more   I can see why unlikely resident John Cooper Clarke calls it God’s Own Country. The Thames is a delight, the dockland areas have down-to-earth charm and history and the posher parts are leafy and calm. And full of cars.

Brentwood FC

Home of Amstrad, motor firm Ford and, er, Eric Pickles. Not exactly a renowned hotbed of football except for one man. Jimmy Greaves.

The legendary hotshot, beset by alcoholism, quit football for two years and returned for his local team in 1975.

Implausible but true. Those days were awash with strange tales of superstars playing near-amateur football. In the Sixties John Charles played for Hereford. George Best once played for Dunstable and so many people watched him there that the catering ran out of snacks and ended up serving crisp sandwiches. They carried on regardless – imagine Rooney turning out for Leek Town, or Gareth Bale playing for Aberdare.

Greaves at Brentwood was a new one on me. Hard to believe now but in the Eighties he and Ian St John were, along with Jimmy Hill, the most famous pundits in football.

The cosy naff knitware and blokey jokey karaoke of Saint and Greavsie was a Saturday lunchtime must-see. Somehow. Nobody on TV ever chuckled as heartily as St John whose impressive chipmunk chompers would light up the living room while the avuncular Greaves, now 75, dispensed wisdom and likeable bonhomie. See for yourself, if you’ve half and hour to spare, here: 

Greaves was also, in a day when recovering alcoholics and drug users were much more coy, the most open recovering alcoholic of the Eighties – perhaps the only one – at a time when it was regarded as incredibly weird not to drink.

I once covered his visit to a school in Dunstable to speak to pupils and remember him fighting off paper cups of wine and insisting on a cup of tea. He was strikingly humble.

He stayed at Brentwood for half of season – according to wikipedia he was admitted to the local psychiatric ward for alcoholics – and later played for other sides in the area.  An Essex boy to the last.

It was mildly disappointing to find no memorabilia or acknowledgement of his short spell here in the clubhouse, but Brentwood have only been at their current home since 1993. They ascended to this division in 2007.

The Big One

Points? Needham needs ’em. Top with nine games left, including this one, they need to win the Ryman North division outright to avoid play-offs to the Premier involving second to fifth. Those play-offs are buggers. The Suffolk side had heartache last year in the semis and Brentwood have also hit the same buffers in a division that is ridiculously hard to escape.

Fourth-placed Brentwood? Well play-offs are the best they can hope for. Their number seven Shad Ngandu reckoned:

He was right. It was time to arm myself with a cup of tea – be warned, they talk funny round here – A cuppa was ‘AE pay’. That’s ‘eighty pence’.

The teams lined up. Impressively no beards or orange people on the field. Fair dos, Brentwood showed a lot more spark than Tilbury did last week when they hosted Needham Market.Brentwood FC v Needham Market FC

Sam Bantick had a shot deflected in the first minute and two calamitous goalkeeper clearances caused visiting panic but the hosts couldn’t claim a goal.

Slowly but surely though the experience and skill of this impressive Needham Market side showed. They won most tackles, made far fewer mistakes, just kept banging away.

A nine-year-old sweary urchin, prodigiously profane, literally walked across the pitch and over the penalty spot in the first half past the keeper  (play was at the other end) on his way home.

Student keeper Ollie Bowles kept Brentwood in it with a couple of good saves that meant it was 0-0 at the break.

And even if Greaves is no longer around then maybe his ghost hovers, however unlikely, over the ground. Luke Ingram hammered a humdinger from 25 yards into the top right hand corner. Bloody fantastic and the away team were one-up in 50.

That became two 16 minutes later when Ingram pounced on a parried shot to net from close in.

Brentwood looked done in, couldn’t keep the ball, couldn’t pass accurately enough and even if they make the play-offs which they should will have to really improve to go up. Sam Newson got the third on 81 minutes – it had seemed inevitable given the vice-like grip his side had put on the hosts. Striker Michael Brothers was particularly impressive.

In the last minute Sherwin Stanley snaffled a consolation that barely registered. It finished 3-1 to the visitors. Needham are now five points clear of Harlow at the top, Brentwood stay fifth. As I’m getting in a bit of a tizzy about this lately it was good to note that the ref was not attacked/abused or even jeered as he made his way off the pitch. Wonders never cease.

As Greavsie used to tell his sidekick: “Football’s a funny old game, Saint.”

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