Sunday, March 1, 2015

Uttoxeter Town 1-2 Littleton

It's Friday evening, and I'm slouched in a leather chair in the Lounge of the Rancliffe Arms in Bunny. I'm with my colleague Joe Hendley from Impero Software, celebrating a successful month at work. I down a pint of Help For Heroes real ale and get chatting with a good friend of mine, Kev Flinton, who I haven't seen in over 20 years.

I arrive home to an empty house. Mrs P is on the lash with the girlies in Nottingham. I scour the fixtures on the Net. I clock Uttoxeter Town are entertaining Littleton from Evesham in the Midland League Division One. Uttoxeter impressed me a few months back in an entertaining game at Nuneaton Griff. I check facebook. Bruiser and Piers are taunting me from Marseille. They are at a French Ligue 1 game at a ground I haven't been to. Marseille throw away a 2-0 lead, going on to lose 3-2. Bruiser can't arf pick em.

I sleep like a log and rise at 8:00am. New Zealand have scraped home by one wicket against Australia in the World Cup. Murphy Palmer the budgie is mean and moody. He's been feathering all week. I can tell he's nervous about the East Anglian derby on Sunday. He'd love to 'Glasgow Kiss' Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy. I caught my little feathered friend red-handed the other evening eyeing up that new copper in Death in Paradise. Personally, I was appalled at her tight denim shorts, legs up to her backside and an off the shoulder T-shirt.

I wash the 'Rolls Royce' and grab a cup of coffee. I switch on the Danny Baker Show. That complete buffoon Chris Sutton is on the longest ever 'Sausage Sandwich Game.' This is the man who refused to play for England and single-handedly destroyed my team, Lincoln City. Baker's talk over music is the brilliant 'Quiet Life' by David Sylvian's Japan.

I drive across to Clifton. Today is 'The Skipper's' 17th birthday. He celebrates in style by bagging a brace for the world famous Clifton All Whites. I check-in with first team manager James 'Tosh' Turner. His mobile phone is glued to his ear, as he makes a few last minute transfer enquiries, before heading off to Mickleover for a Central Midlands League game. The chairman is overseeing the installation of the new floodlights, which is scheduled to take place next week.

My phone suddenly goes off with a text alert. It's White Van Man confirming that tickets and train have been booked for Norwich on March 21st when Forest take on the Canaries. At £77 it ain't cheap folks. It's a short trip to Uttoxeter. Crystal Palace are leading West Ham 1-0 courtesy of a Glenn Murray goal, as I turn off the A50 and head into the back of the town centre.

Uttoxeter is a market town in Staffordshire with a population of 12,000. Joseph Cyril Bamford was born in the town. JCB are now the third biggest manufacturer of heavy plant in the world. Sticky's favourite film director Shane Meadows is from Uttoxeter. Murphy the budgie asks for his towel to go over the cage when I watch the spine-chilling Dead Man's Shoes on DVD. The local racecourse is also well known, it is where the Midlands Grand National is held.

Uttoxeter's Oldfield Sports Club, on Springfield Road, is a piece of cake to find. There is no repeat of the last week's drama, when I verbally volleyed the Tom Tom. The ground is shared with the Rugby Club. It has a lovely old pavilion, which looks really cosy, but it's mobbed out with folk. I pay £3 on the gate and £1 for the programme.

The weather is a bit gloomy. The only place with any cover is behind the furthest goal. The dugouts are on the nearest touchline, with the rugby pitch on the far side. It's a bit of trek back to the clubhouse if you were to get taken short, as I often am.

I'm already green with envy at a rather portly chap dressed in a long green parka with The Who emblazoned on it, who has already touched the Match Ball twice in the first fifteen minutes. The Uttoxeter left back fancies himself as a bit of a Jack-the -lad. 'Cooky' from Littleton is giving him a bit of a going over. He whips a cross in tight to the by-line, it's swept home at the far post, to give the visitors a deserved lead. I notice in the programme that Littleton have produced a couple of Football League players: Joe Lolley at Huddersfield Town and Matt Smith at Fulham.

'Tox' are on level terms on 24 minutes. 'Jack the lad' hits a howitzer of a free kick from 22 yards out which goes in off the underside of the bar. I take a stroll to the refreshment van at the break. I bump into another referee's assessor. They are usually without character. This guy is different. He thanks me for my positive comments about the ref.

A guy is walking towards me, and he doesn't look too chuffed to see me. Bloody hell, it's that groundhopper from Wigan that I met at Stapenhill the other week. "I don't sound like Eddie Waring" he shouts at me. "He was born in bloody Dewsbury." He produces a book from his bag. It's called Lancashire English. I gratefully accept this very kind gift.

As the teams kick off, a guy walks by swigging a can of Red Stripe. Bloody hell, they don't mess about around here, that used to be proper 'Tramps Treacle.' back in the day.

It's a terrific game of football as both teams search for a winner. There's a melee on 85 minutes which sees Littleton's 10 jacket dismissed from the field of play. On 88 minutes a ball is cleared to Holloway who is 40 yards out and hugging the touchline. He's been the game's best player. His touch and passing has never deserted him. He hoists the ball towards goal, the 'keeper is stranded and despite furiously backpedaling, can only watch aghast as the ball hits the back of the net. Hollway takes the plaudits as he is piled on by his whole team.

There's still time for the referee to brandish two red cards as the game ends in chaos, but with a deserved victory for Littleton.

Man of the Match: Daniel Holloway


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Brocton FC 3-1 Walsall Wood

Me and Murphy Palmer the budgie don't do the TV soaps. We'd rather walk on the wings of a Tiger Moth than watch Emmerdale or EastEnders, but we're always looking to make a fast buck. As who killed Lucy Beale fever sweeps the country, we decide to take a butcher's hook at Corals for the latest betting. We've never like the Market Inspector; a nasty specimen, who's always on the make. At 66/1 he was worth a punt for Murphy. We'll spend the winnings on Johnson's honey bars and millet spray from Wheatcroft's Garden Centre in affluent Edwalton.

Murphy whistles his way throughout the entire episode. I tried to break it to him gently that nobody has seen the Market Inspector in weeks. He asks for his towel to be put over the cage when it's revealed that little bro Bobby Beale bashed his big sister over the head with a jewellery box. We won't be watching it again.

It's Friday night and I'm sitting in the The Plumtree Restaurant on Nottingham Road in Keyworth next to the chippy. I've won a meal for two having been the 100th 'Like' on their facebook page. 'The Skipper' does a spot of waitering here at the weekend. There's not many folk in this evening, as people are scrimping and scraping, waiting for wages day next week. I polish off a huge portion of delicious haddock and share a Fruits of the Forest Gateaux with Mrs P. The food and service is par excellence. I tell the owner that I'll recommend that the Food Sleuth from the Nottingham Post pays them a visit.

I'm up with the larks on Saturday morning. I'm frying mince and chopping onions, while I prepare Sticky's signature dish of chilli con carne for this evening. I finally head down to Clifton All Whites, Green Lane ground, to catch 'The Skipper' in action for the under 18s against Mickleover Sports. It's 0-0 and they have missed a penalty. Tosh whips away three of the boys away for a first team match up at Thoresby Colliery at half time. They struggle after the break and are well beaten 2-0. 'The Skipper' is a little down in the mouth as I drop him off at home.

Middlesbrough v Dirty Leeds is the commentary game on Five Live. Academy product Alex Mowatt has put the visitors ahead. Manager, Neil Redfearn, was one of my boyhood idols. He made 100 appearances for 'The Lincoln' in the 1980s.

I've brought the Tom Tom instead of the Garmin, it proves to be a costly mistake. The bloody thing takes me on a tour of the Derbyshire and Staffordshire countryside. Flipping heck, I thought I was in Cornwall for a minute, the roads are that tight and bendy. 

I finally pitch up outside the village store in Brocton. I can't get a signal on my phone so I can punch out the postcode of the ground into the sat nav. It's like Open All Hours in the shop. The lass on the till and a few customers haven't a Scooby Do where Brocton FC play. To add insult to injury we're now in the middle of a hailstorm that is bouncing off the car windscreen.

I chance upon Brocton Hall Golf Club and drive up towards the clubhouse. Former Ryder Cup golfer Paul Broadhurst is the course record holder. An elderly couple, dripping wet, are packing up their golf gear. The lady gives me precise instructions. The club play just outside Stafford.

Brocton FC were founded in 1937 by the owner of a local pub. They are nicknamed The Badgers. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a good programme. I love the ground. It's tight, tidy and tree-lined. The main stand is on the nearest side with green tip-up seats. I was tipped off about the ground by former UEFA official Phil Prosser.

The Badgers are in the lower half of the table despite a comfortable 3-0 away win at League leaders Lye Town during the week. I viewed Walsall Wood a month ago in the FA Vase. They were knocked out in a replay at Shaw Lane Aqua Force.

Brocton are brimming with confidence. They are quick to close down and play a beautiful game. They take an early lead through a left footed strike by David Berks. It's soon 2-0. Young Jack Edwards rinses Walsall Wood's Kieron Richardson lookalike left back, his low cross is turned into the net by Sam Bell.

Walsall Wood are simply not at the races. Their centre forward, who didn't look match fit when I saw him a few weeks ago, is hauled off. A bloke resembling Emile Heskey replaces him. They are fortuitious to be handed a lifeline on the stroke on half time. Their winger already looks to be tumbling as he rounds the 'keeper. The lady lineman signals for a corner, the referee points at the spot. After consultation between officials, the spot kick is taken, but saved. The rebound is blasted into the back of the net.

The crowd of 89 draw for breath after an exciting first half. Henry the dog enjoys a chocolate drop. I have the brew of the season. It's poured from the pot into a ceramic mug. I mark it with a 9.5. I get gassing to a groundhopper from Farnborough. He's caught the train here from Euston. He won't be home until 10:00pm. 

I tell him an anecdote about the time I was in recruitment at Notts County. My boss and I went to see Buckingham Town v Farnborough Town in the FA Youth Cup. It was at the time when Munto ran the Pies and Sven Goran Eriksson was Director of Football. We picked up this lad. He reminded me of Gareth Barry. He played one trial game for Notts County U16s. They wanted £30,000 for him. Farnborough were managed by a guy called Steve King. He used to wear a cashmere coat and a pork pie hat. He looked like a used car salesman. Turned out Munto was a hoax. The boy was a quality player. His name was Joe Ralls. He's a regular pick for Cardiff City these days.

Walsall Wood emerge from the dressing rooms after only five minutes. I reckon their manager has booted them out after a royal rollicking. The game continues at a great pace. Brocton grab all three points with an emphatic finish from Jack Edwards who has hugged the right touchline all afternoon.

As I walk out the ground with the final seconds ticking away, I clock a man in the stand scurrilously penning away in a notebook. It's the dreaded referee's assessor. No wonder the man in the middle has been over zealous today.

Man of the Match: Jack Edwards

Attendance: 89

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thorne Colliery 2-3 Brodsworth Welfare AFC

This is ridiculous, where the hell can he be ? I'm on the High Street in the picture postcard town of Stamford, in Lincolnshire. I've spotted a sign pointing in the direction of Daniel Lambert's grave. Lambert weighed in at a world record 52 stone when he died suddenly in Stamford back in 1809. His coffin required 112 square feet of wood. It took twenty men half an hour to lower his coffin into the ground. Why can't I find the 'Lord of the Pies' final resting place?

The Sunday morning congregation are filing out of St Martin's church. An elderly lady tells me to walk through the graveyard, cross the road and I should see a plaque on the railings. She's right, I've finally found Lambert. The lettering on his headstone has washed away. It's mission accomplished for Sticky Palms.

A pleasant weekend in Stamford was spent at the glorious Crown Hotel. A stroll around Burghley House in sun-kissed skies and unseasonal temperatures was an unexpected bonus.

I take in a Notts Senior Cup tie between Basford United and Dunkirk on Tuesday evening. Both teams play a beautiful game. 37 year old former Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie turns out for Basford. It's worth the £5 on the gate to watch his movement. How on earth Dunkirk are bottom of the Midland League, on that performance, Lord only knows.

On Thursday evening I watch 'The Skipper' get a much-needed 90 minutes under his belt for Dunkirk U19s. He thoroughly enjoys it and hooks up with some mates he hasn't played with in ages. We leave Murphy the budgie at home. The traitor will be whistling the signature tune to BBC1's Death in Paradise. We had a pact not to watch it any more after DS Camille Bordey took up a secondment in Paris. Murphy now has the hots for her replacement.

We're still not speaking on Saturday morning, as I switch the kettle on and flick on Sky Sports to watch the cricket World Cup. I watch the wickets tumble one by one. The diminutive James Taylor shows some bottle as he racks up an unbeaten 98. He's robbed of a ton by some inept umpiring.

I leave Sticky jnr polishing his boots in anticipation of a mouth-watering quarter final League Cup tie against neighbouring Cotgrave. I whizz up the A46, over Gunthorpe Bridge and onto A614. I breeze up the A1 and onto the M18 before turning off for Thorne.  

Thorne is a market town in the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster with a population of 16,000. The local coal mine was closed in 1956. Soprano singer Lesley Garratt and the plumber Thomas Crapper were born in the town.

I like to see the good in everything. The town centre looks like it could do with a make-over. Cameron and his cronies have let the place to go to wrack and ruin. Where's the coalfield regeneration money been pumped into? I drive past 'Sweets 'n Treats' , the 'e-cigarette shop (with e-liquid accessories, 'JJ's Bits and Pieces' and Paul's Polish Food Shop.' There's an uninviting tea rooms and a large Co-op. I head out towards the country before chancing upon the Black Bull Inn.

It's a pleasant enough pub, but they only serve Sharps Doom Bar and don't have any strong lager on. I thought they could sup up here ? I down a pint of Guinness. I can't even get a bloody sandwich in the joint. Thorne Colliery's home is in the neighbouring village of Moorends. If you're a big fish 'n chip fan it's the place to be - take your pick from 'Cod Almighty', 'Crispy Cod' and 'Golden Cod.'

I drive past the old colliery winding wheel, with it's memorial plaque dedicated to those who lost their lives at the coal mine. The players are kicking-in as I part with £3 on the gate and £1 for a programme. A huge blue-painted stand with yellow-coloured steps is the main feature of the ground. It looks magnificent. I grab a cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich.

Carver (Jim's lad off The Bill) puts the visitors 1-0 up early doors. It settles Sticky down - I don't do 0-0s. It's a groundhoppers dream on ten minutes,when I get my mucky paws on the match ball. Carver fluffs a couple of sitters as Brodsworth continue to dominant the game.

The Thorne No.7 looks like a gangly version of the former Argentinean international and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Ricky Villa. Sadly his performance is more like Ricky Butcher.

I'm at a bit of a loss at the break. I'd be normally scrolling through my twitter timeline checking the half-time scores. They haven't got floodlights here, so have kicked-off at 2:00pm. A game of jumpers for goalposts has attracted my attention. The boys playing can only be aged 10-11. It reminds me of the classic film Kes. There's plenty of swearing going off and a temper tantrum or two. A boy is wiped out. There's a slight skirmish. The wee lad is streaming with tears as he gathers his jumper, collects his scooter and storms off, threatening to bring back his big brother. I hope it's not 'Our Judd.'

Thorne equalise from the penalty spot early in the second half. They can only hang on for a few minutes. Luke Flanagan spots the Thorne 'keeper off his line and from 25 yards out superbly chips the ball over his outstretched arms and into the net. Corey Taylor appears to put the result beyond doubt following good work by Junior PC Carver down the right touchline. Thorne score again, with the visitors in debt to their 'keeper with two fine saves towards the end of an entertaining game.

Man of the Match: Billy Casper

Monday, February 2, 2015

AFC Wulfrunians 0-2 Tipton Town

It's Thursday evening, 9:00pm and the highlight of the week. Murphy's cage is positioned next to the arm rest of the settee, with a bird's eye view of the TV. He's flapping away at the Ska theme tune to hit TV series Death in Paradise. He (and me) are totally smitten and loved up with Detective Sergeant Camille Bordey from the show. She's an absolute beauty, with a cracking pair of pins. I was flicking through the Sunday Mirror TV guide, when I clocked that Camille is to exit the show this evening. Who's going to tell Murphy ?

Fast forward 55 minutes and Camille is boarding a ferry from the quayside to the mainland, as she's accepted a job offer in Paris. Why the hell did the Detective Inspector sign the release papers? I couldn't tell Murphy; it would break his heart. He's blubbering now and so is Sticky. It won't be the same without her.

It's two days since Murphy touched his food. He's proper off it. Camille leaving the show has left the wee man in bits and lovesick. My God, we miss her. Last night I nursed a pint and a half of Two Hoots from the Joseph Holt brewery up in Manchester. I'm celebrating a successful month end with colleagues from work. Mrs P joins me later  for a bite to eat in the Ruddington Arms, following a good write-up in the Nottingham Post by the Food Sleuth.

The forecast for Friday night and the early hours of Saturday morning looks very bleak for us groundhoppers around the UK. The North is off the radar. The Midlands has a blanket of snow. Not many hoppers will be wearing their parkas or rucksacks tomorrow. The sandwich boxes and programme covers will remain empty. I wake up on Saturday morning and draw back the curtains, the snow has gone.

Mrs P heads out early doors to Loughborough to buy some candles. If only life was that simple. I ask her to pop her head through the door at Waterstones, to make sure all the staff I stalked for the the last six months are okay. Murphy is swinging on his perch to 'Boogie Wonderland' by Earth, Wind and Fire. My twitter timeline is full of games off and pitch inspections.

I make a cup of strong coffee and microwave a sausage roll. Murphy mops up the flakes of pastry. He's slowly regaining his appetite. Redditch and Brocton have both bit the dust. AFC Wulfrunians are saying on their twitter feed that there are no plans for a pitch inspection. I have to look them up to see where they are located. Wolverhampton is not too far for the 'Rolls Royce.'

They are previewing the over-hyped 'game of the season' between Chelsea and Man City on Five Live. Pundits over analyse it. It's no coincidence that Match of the Day had their largest viewing figures of the season last Saturday evening when giant-killers from Bradford and Middlesbrough rolled into West London and Manchester. The Premier League is not for me, although I still need to chalk off Anfield.

It's not the most enjoyable of journeys. The drive to Birmingham can be a chore. I pull off the M6 towards Wolverhampton. After skirting Wolverhampton town centre, I find myself in the suburb of Castlecroft. I'm not banking on a Good Pub Guide entry in these neck of the woods. I swing the 'Rolls Royce' into a ghastly looking pub car park opposite one of those ugly 1960s shopping precincts.

The decor in the pub beggars belief. A woman from the 'Darby and Joan Club' is ordering snap for the whole of Wolverhampton at the bar. Each one is paid for separately. After what seems an eternity I finally get my paws on a pint of Boondoggle from the Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire. The old blue rinse brigade are tucking into their 'Lunch Deals.' I think I'll give the snap on offer the swerve.

The Castlecroft Stadium is just down the road. I pass a desolate cricket ground and some posh apartments with electric gates, before squeezing the 'Rolls' into a parking space. AFC Wulfrunians were formed in 2005 and were an offshoot of Old Wulfrunians founded in 1922.

The stadium was previously the RFU's national centre for schools and youth rugby. Back in the 1950s it was Wolverhampton Wanderers training ground. It's £5 on the gate. The programme is a bargain at £1. Someone takes a lot of tender loving care in producing this programme. I fluff the quiz, which shows 8 pictures of former Nottingham Forest players. One of them has long frizzy hair, with Mediterranean looks. I take a stab at Nikola Jerkan. It's that bloody buffoon Andrea Silenzi. NFFC coughed up £1.8 million for this joker; he didn't even score a League goal.

My new blue coat, a bargain £45 from Next's Victoria Centre branch in Nottingham, is getting its first airing. It's catching the eye of one or two WAGS, I can tell you. I'm impressed with the stadium although you only have access to three sides. A 500 seater stand with green tip-up seats dominates the nearest touchline. A neatly trimmed privet hedge is the main feature behind the nearest goal. The far side is tree-lined and where the dugouts are situated.

It's bitterly cold, I've four layers of clothing on, but I've a feeling I may have under-clubbed. Finley the rabbit has predicted a 7-0 drubbing for bottom-placed Tipton Town. Don't worry Tipton fans, old buck teeth knows chuff all about Non League football.

The swirling wind makes it difficult for either team to keep the ball on the carpet. Both see efforts bounce off the woodwork, before the visitors take the lead with a well executed goal from Nicky Pugh. Half-time can't come quick enough as I peg it up the stairs into the cosy refreshment bar. I warm my hands on a cup of steaming hot salty Bovril. The cheese and onion cob at a £1 a pop is better than anything that bloody pub up the road has to offer.

I'm reluctant to leave the clubhouse as I've shivered my way through the first half. Tipton upset the apple-cart with 15 minutes remaining, David Meese waltzes his way through a static defence before curling his shot into the corner of the net.

The under 9 balls boys are in stitches behind the goal when the Tipton keeper' shanks a clearance and ends up flat on his ass. They'll still be giggling this evening about that one.

Attendance: 137

Man of the Match: Ball Boys

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ilkeston FC 1-1 Blyth Spartans

Mrs P is on one of those girly spa day thingys out at Kettering in Northamptonshire. Murphy the budgie and I are chuckling away like Muttley off Wacky Races that a Take That tribute band and an overnight stay are part of the package deal. It's a proper boys' night in. First port of call is a catch-up with 'The Zuffler' at the Ruddington Arms. We chew the crud over a pint of golden ale, before I call in at the award-winning Plumtrees Fish Bar on Nottingham Road in Keyworth for a large piece of haddock.

Murphy loves pecking at the batter. He'll never reach the average age of a budgie with some of the crap I feed him. He'll have the same cholesterol as the world's fattest man - Daniel Lambert, who died in 1809 at a pub in Stamford. He was that fat they had to knock the wall out because the undertakers couldn't get him through the door.

Murphy is spitting out his batter bits and I'm choking on my wine as we watch our first 0-0 of the season between Cambridge United and the overrated Louis Van Gaal's Manchester United. I wish LVG would sort his 'syrup' out; he could do with a good old short back 'n sides. Ted the barber at City Gents on Queen St, Nottingham, would have sorted him out back in the day. We're up with the larks on Saturday morning.


'The Skipper' is playing his first game since God knows when. We drop in at a garage in Ruddington. I fill up with petrol, while he refuels with a Subway breakfast. He jumps out the car at the world famous Clifton All-Whites FC, a breeding ground for talented footballers. I head off back to Keyworth and drop into the Village Bistro where I demolish a full English breakfast accompanied with an Americano.

Clifton are coasting when I return back to their Green Lane ground. 'The Skipper' bags a beauty in front of his Dad, with a clever give 'n go. I'm stood with legendary First Team manager James 'Tosh' Turner. He receives more voicemails than News International and makes Harry Redknapp look like a mug on Transfer Deadline Day. The screen on his phone is smashed to smithereens. It's been lost more times than Mark Thatcher.

'The Skipper' enjoys a celebratory refreshment and a tray of chips, before we return to base. Sticky jnr is unsure of a starting place for the Stiffs, as he's not fully recovered from a knock he picked up the other week. I'm not giving up an afternoon to watch him park his arse on the subs' bench.

Tosh has already mentioned that the game of the day is up in inner city Nottingham, one of my favourite haunts, where I used to pick up players for fun when I worked for the Pies. Radford are entertaining League leaders Blaby and Whetstone from Leicester, in the East Midlands Counties League.

It's a bugger to park your car around here. I turn into Selhurst Street off a bustling Radford Road, which is a must-see attraction for those who haven't been before. It's my favourite part of multi-cultural Nottingham. There's Bob Hope of parking my car round here. I'll need a can opener to prise open the 'Rolls Royce' door. I abandon the 'Rolls' on a shady side street off Berridge Road and participate in a spot of jaywalking across Radford Road, minus the baseball cap and headset.

Sought after John King has just put Radford 1-0 up as I squeeze through the turnstile with my four layers of clothing on. I've jumped on the Radford bandwagon as they enjoy a nine game winning run. Confidence is soaring high as young Joe Meakin puts them two to the good with a brilliant dead ball strike. Blaby are all over the show. Their coaches are lost for words and tactics. In fairness they deservedly peg one back before the break.

There's a grandstand finish, with another Meakin bullet, Blaby reply immediately from the kick off. Big Glenn's face is on full beam at the final whistle. The ref has dished out more cards than Clintons, and has sent a player off for Radford. There's not one bad tackle in the game. The referee's assessor is a prized pillock. He spends most of the afternoon joshing with the crowd, instead of keeping his eyes on the game.

It's while I'm flicking through the Non League Paper, after a successful Sunday morning's shopping, where I've bagged a couple of new groundhopping coats, that I notice that Ilkeston are playing host to Blyth Spartans in the Northern Premier League. A quick text reply from The Taxman confirms an ITV free night for Sticky on Monday.

I pick up 'The Taxman' at 7:00pm on the dot. We have a good old moan about our teenage boys on the short journey to Ilkeston. Sticky jnr has been holed up at College for three hours after leaving his keys in the boot of his car and his spare key in the glove compartment. A nice little bill will have to be settled by junior before the locksmith can set to work.

There's a bumper ground this evening (816) following a campaign by a local supermarket to let flag waving kids in for free. Ilson's youth policy is literally paying dividends. Kieran Wallace and Che Adams have signed for young Clough at the Blades, while other youth have been snapped up by QPR, Fleetwood and Chester.

Blyth's wing wizard, Jarret Rivers has been reported to have turned down personal terms with Cambridge Utd. We get a slightly elevated few stood on the concrete steps to the right of the away dugout. The first half is as dull as dishwater. Ilkeston play it route one to the lumbering journeyman Robert Duffy and then pressure the ball to pick up the 'seconds.' Blyth look lethargic and leggy after their 180 mile coach journey from Northumberland.

Neither 'keeper is troubled in a stalemate of a first half. Ilkeston get the ball down and work the channels, after Duffy limps off after being pole-axed by the visiting 'keeper. Substitute Samba scores with almost his first touch. Ilson have further chances to put the game to bed. With the clock ticking in John Motson 'mystery time', Dale curls in a beautifully flighted cross which skims off the head of Steven Turnbull into the roof of the net. Spartans can feel a shade fortunate as they have looked a little off colour tonight.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Walsall Wood 1-1 Shaw Lane Aquaforce

I
I've worked in Loughborough for the last six months and have become very fond of the place. I've enjoyed canal side walks and ambling around the town centre. Waterstones has become a favourite lunchtime haunt of mine. I must have made over 50 appearances at the Loughborough branch, hiding from the cold and rain. Staff in there must have thought I was some kind of serial stalker. I didn't even buy a book in there.

The reason for my rambling is that the office has moved to Ruddington, near Nottingham, ironically opposite a company I worked for over 15 years. It's literally a five minute drive from my house, and yet I'll be starting earlier and finishing later. Hopefully, good times lie ahead.

It's Friday evening and I'm sat in the Keyworth Tavern with Mrs P, drinking a pint of Castle Rock's awarding-winning Harvest Pale Ale. There's no sign of blog legend Trumpy Bolton. Rumours in the Keyworth News are that he's signed up to the January dryathon. I clock a poster on a wall by the entrance. It says there's a 'Ska Night' coming up in a few weeks. Trumpy's party piece is 'Special Brew' by Bad Manners. I'll be dropping by for that one.

On Saturday morning I receive a text at just gone 7:00am to tell me 'The Skipper's' game has been frosted off. It's been a frustrating time for my lad; his team have struggled to attract players this season. Had the Club not been so hasty in calling this one off, they would have found perfect playing conditions, with sun-kissed skies by 10:30.

I'm having problems with my youngest lad, Murphy the budgie. I open his cage door and beckon him to jump on my finger. He's staring head first into his mirror. I can see he is in a filthy mood. He swings his head back and brings it back with such force, that I'm surprised the head butt doesn't crack the glass in his mirror. I've not seen such a vicious assault since Dion Dublin stuck the nut on Robbie Savage in 2003. The reason for Murphy's mood swing is two fold: one, he's been overlooked for the managerial vacancy at Norwich City (they did appoint an unknown though) and two, I forgot to switch Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s show on Radio 2. He's soon whistling to The Troggs 1966 hit 'Wild Thing', as I rustle up a bacon sandwich.

I scanned the FA Vase 4th round draw earlier in the week. The stand-out tie for me is between Walsall Wood and Shaw Lane Aquaforce from South Yorkshire. It's a tick-off for me. Pitch condition updates from 'The Wood' twitter feed have been excellent this week. They confirm the game is on.

There are a dozen hooligans wearing designer clothing and baseball caps, loafing about in my lounge. What's popping? It's D***y v NFFC on the box. 'The Skipper' is in the kitchen making everyone coffee. Having sampled one, there's still hope for Phil Neville yet.

Murphy is perched on the back row of the settee. He's soon diving for cover when Sticky jnr starts to trash the room after Henri Lansbury's 50 pence head puts the Rams 1-0 up. I leave them to it. I punch the postcode into the sat nav and head towards the A50 and A38. I switch on 'Radio Red', it seems that the Tricky Trees have settled down a bit and are beginning to carve out a few chances.

I begin to lose reception as Zaire-born, leading scorer, Britt Assombalonga puts Forest on level terms. Murphy will be hiding on top of the curtain rail, as Sticky jnr goes mental. I press a couple of buttons and chance upon Radio D***y. They have a couple of clowns commentating; one of them is Craig Ramage, who takes great pleasure in slagging off Stuart Pearce for most of the game. I remember this bone-idle waste of space playing 50 times for the Pies in the late 90s. Derby-born Ben Osborn's late winner makes the moment even sweeter as Ramage bleats down his microphone. Poor old Murphy will probably be in intensive care.

I can't find a decent hostelry in the Good Pub Guide for love or money in this area of Walsall. I swing the 'Rolls Royce' into the Oak Park Leisure Centre. I walk past the Shaw Lane team coach and wander through some wrought iron gates, before parting with £7 on the gate, including  a programme.

The place is already bustling with folk. I notice a memorial pithead in the distance to the far side of the changing rooms. I get chatting to a tall bald-headed fellow who says he recognises me. I bloody hope not, as it turns out to be former Football League referee Phil Prosser. He once ran the line in a Champions League game between PSV Eindhoven and Bayern Munich. Phil now mentors young referees. 26 year old Lisa Rashid is today's official.

I take a pew on a wooden bench on the back row of a stand on the far side of the ground. Phil and I have a good chinwag. He tips me the wink on one or two grounds that I ought to visit, Brocton being one of them.

'The Wood' have done well to get this game on. The pitch is heavily sanded on the touchline close to the dugouts. Shaw Lane could have scored in the first 30 seconds, while 'The Wood', a minute later, actually do, with a textbook finish by Evans.

Poor old Shane Kelsey has an equaliser controversially chalked-off, Morris is the perpetrator, lazily walking back in an offside position and then clumsily colliding with a defender. Kelsey doesn't have to wait long for justice. He equalises from the spot, following a stonewall penalty. Shaw Lane enjoy a golden thirty minute spell as the chances stack up. Tackles are flying in, and there is a flurry of yellow cards, but the game is well controlled by young Rashid, as Phil scurrilously pens notes in his book.

I bump into some groundhoppers from Northampton at the break. One of them is related to Newcastle United goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who has been farmed out to Nottingham Forest on loan. There are long queues at the bars. I hot foot it back to the stand. There's no sign of Phil; I must have bored him to death.

The second half and extra time is dire. The game's best player, Shaw Lane's left back, Luke O'Brien is controversially sent off for a professional foul, even though he isn't last man. There's a cameo performance from one of Sticky's all-time favourites, Anton Foster.  Shaw Lane play for an hour with ten men, but deservedly earn a draw, forcing a replay.

Attendance: 169

Man of the Match: Luke O'Brien.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stapenhill 0-2 Radford FC

I'm still cooing over the eleven goal thriller at The Dovecote. In 45 years of watching football, it's my biggest aggregate scoreline. Christmas is a quiet affair. I'm dry on New Year's Eve for the first time in living memory. I spend most of it chuckling away at Danny Baker's autobiography, 'Going Off Alarming.'

Last Saturday I accompanied White Van Man and Bruiser to the Leicestershire Midland League derby between Quorn and Shepshed. It ended honours even at 1-1. WVM must have had Grand Theft Auto 6 as a present for Christmas, as we hurtle down the tight country lines near Prestwold, where ironically there is  a purpose built 1.8 mile racetrack, where his skills might be put to better use. Highlight of the day at Quorn is when the tea lady tells a head-shaking Bruiser that there's no tucker on at the snap cabin.

 
It's Saturday morning. I'm clipping a fruit stick onto Finley the rabbit's cage. It's a treat from his Uncle Fod for tipping him that Lallana would bag at anytime versus Swansea the other day. Finley's no mug when it comes to the Premiership, but is an utter fool on the Non League circuit. He sticks his floppy ears out his front door to assess the gusty conditions, before predicting a 0-0 bore draw. Big Glen Russell at Radford FC doesn't do 0-0s Finley. Anyway, it's been three years since I saw my last competitive blankety blank (Skeggy v Clifton doesn't count, Tosh took em on the lash at lunch).

Finley has been suffering recurring nightmares since Christmas. My bad readers. I let him in the lounge one cold afternoon. We curled up on the sofa and watched Watership Down together. I totally forgot the film has a few dark moments and a couple of rabbits bite the dust. He's only just got over Glenn Close butchering that pet rabbit in Fatal Attraction - unfortunately that was my fault too.

I nip in the lounge before dropping 'The Skipper' off at Clifton All-Whites. Murphy the budgie is dive bombing Mrs P. He's squawking and squealing. Who can blame him when he's being force fed Whitney Houston on the Graham Norton's Radio 2 show - well, she's not actually on it, because she died in a scalding hot bath in Beverley Hill back in April 2012 due to an overdose of prescription drugs. 'So Emotional' by the Newark born singer (that's the one in New Jersey, not to be confused with the town near Lincoln) is irritating my little feathered friend.

 
After dropping 'The Skipper' off, I pitch up at Bread 'n Lard Island (West Bridgford). It's Nottingham's version of Knightsbridge. I've got to get my windows fixed otherwise I'm going to have more plasters on those frames than Jack Duckworth. I have a Mr Magoo moment as I walk past Specsavers without seeing it. Once again, they provide excellent customer service. I bag a Swiss cheese and chorizo Panini at the brilliant No.8 Deli on Gordon Road.

Bloody hell, my phone's going off, what's popping? Ooh heck, The Skipper's game is off: it's a no show from the opposition from Birmingham.

I play around with my new Garmin sat nav, recommended by resident blog drunk, Trumpy Bolton, as I drive the 'Rolls Royce' through Kegworth and onto the A50. I'm soon turning off onto the A38 and navigating towards the village of Repton in South Derbyshire. I pull up opposite the Bulls Head on the High Street.

Repton is famous for its private school. There's a huge list of former pupils including: Harold Abrahams, Roald Dahl, Jeremy Clarkson, Basil Rathbone, Robert Sangster and Derby midfielder Will Hughes. Former Ipswich Town defender Russell Osman was born in the village.

The Bulls Head is a beauty and candidate for Pub of the Year. I was tipped it by a Bluenose at work. I love the low beams and pillars. They have six real ales on hand-pull. I opt for a pint of Purity Gold brewed in nearby Warwickshire. The main dining area is stacked out with folks. It has a wonderful ambience. Wood-fired pizzas are proving popular, as are The Smiths and Jake Bugg (one of our own) on the pub sound system.

 
White Van Man will be regretting missing out on this trip, there's a chippy adjacent to the pub called Good Buy Mr Chips - it sells the best Pukka Pies in the area. Stapenhill is a 15 minute drive up the road. After negotiating a few tight country lanes, I roll into the Maple Grove car park half an hour before kick off.

I'm greeted by a friendly chap on the gate. I part with £5 for admission plus a programme. The Club official tells me there's a groundhopper from Wigan in the social club. Bloody hell, I bet he's caught three trains and a bus.

I bump into Radford FC manager 'Big Glenn Russell', who is warming the troops up. He's left star turn John King on the bench. Glenn has brought a few with him from disbanded Nottingham outfit Bilborough Pelican.

 
I like the ground, it's in a nice spot. It has cushioned leather seats in the nearest stand, with further cover behind the goal closest to the clubhouse. You can only view from three sides of the ground, with the dugouts being situated on the far side. There are some dreadful RnB toons blasting out the PA. Norman Collier's faulty microphone is once again in use as the PA guy reads out the line-ups.

'Big Glenn' nearly loses his baseball cap in the swirling wind as he jumps off his seat in the dugout and stomps into the technical area to remonstrate with his two centre backs: "Stay in the f***ing hole", he shouts.

Radford take an early lead through Dave Udoh. They're soon 2-0 up, slightly against the run of play, following a cool left foot finish by the impressive Sheriff Babatunde. It's the same old story at half-time, as I warm my hands with a piping hot mug of tea, Forest, Notts and the Stags are all losing.

 
Joe Meakin continues to control the midfield. He keeps it simple and can pick a pass. Surely he is destined for a higher level of football than this. Where are the spotters ?

I've chanced upon the 'Wigan Groundhopper' - I can't understand a bloody word he says - he sounds like Eddie Waring. He's got to catch a bus and three trains back oop north. He's not happy when the ref plays 8 minutes injury-time. Golden rules of proper Hoppers are that you never leave until the final whistle. I'm sure I see him shed a tear as his choice of bus sails up the road. I offer him a lift into Burton, but he's having none of it - he'll be lucky if he's home for Songs of Praise at this rate.

Attendance: 56

Man of the Match: Joe Meakin