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Sports reporter braves the wrath of fans angry at press coverage

Weeks of confrontational challenges against the Essex Chronicle by Chelmsford City fans, angry at the newspaper’s coverage of the ongoing Chelmsford City/Braintree Town controversy, took reporter Patrick John into the lions’ den when he joined supporters at City’s clash with East Thurrock United.
City and Town have both been removed from the Essex Senior Cup. The punishments came after the club’s mass confrontation during their Essex Senior Cup semi-final in January which was abandoned.

This assignment was in a different league to most.

On my second day at the Chronicle, I was the reporter asked to cover the story of a brawl at a Chelmsford City versus Braintree Town match.

It was an incident which ultimately saw both sides removed from the Essex Senior Cup competition and facing FA fines, and my stories on the confrontation have been closely scrutinised by Clarets fans.

My brief was simple: Gauge fan opinion by going to the East Thurrock game wearing an Essex Chronicle fleece, and stand among the hard core supporters to see how long I last.

It doesn’t seem that great a plan now it’s written down.

On a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon, I zip up my fleece and hide in my car until a couple of minutes before kick-off. Yes, I’m a coward.

I walk through the gates and trudge towards the end behind the goal hoping that the game is called off or that no one will notice the Chronicle logo on my chest. As I reach the City fans, there seems to be no reaction.

Then a deathly hush… a few mutters.

And then the chanting starts.

I can’t quite make out what the fans are singing, but I didn’t realise the Chronicle was full of wit.

All my carefully prepared arguments defending our editorial values go out of the window. This is about survival.

And no one told me the fans had a megaphone, which amplifies the comments.

I’m squirming and my cheeks are red. The game’s only been going 15 minutes. This is going to be a long afternoon.

But the fans are fantastic. All the comments and chants are funny and they take my appearance in the manner it’s intended.

And my thanks must go to the East Thurrock goalkeeper, who copped twice as much as me.

Changing ends at half-time, the fans are merciful, mainly because I hide in the toilet for as long as possible.

But the main thing is that I’ve survived, and the fans have been superb, encouraging the players and adding to the atmosphere at Melbourne Park.

The worst thing about the afternoon is the result, 4-2, which all but ends any hopes of a play-off spot for the Clarets as I prepare to go back to normal for the next game against Walton & Hersham.

But I think this time I’ll leave the Chronicle fleece at home.

  • After the initial City/Town confrontation, City manager Craig Edwards was found guilty of violent conduct and received a four match touchline ban and a £350 fine. Braintree winger Robbie Martin was also found guilty and received a three match ban and a £100 fine. City defender Michael Haswell was found not guilty of violent conduct. On top of the punishments from the Football Association, the Essex FA decided to remove both clubs from the competition and to award the trophy to Waltham Forest. Both clubs were fined £400 and each forfeited their prize money of £500 for reaching the semi-final.