Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Harrogate Town 1-4 AFC Fylde

The season is drawing to a close. I've enjoyed my season off from recruiting and managing youth. Next year I'll be involved with Clifton All Whites Under 19s in the North Midlands Floodlit League. I'm relishing the challenge of developing young players, once again, helping them on their way to adult football.

It's Friday evening. I've had a long old week at work. We've all been in sales training for two solid days. It's intense, but also fun. I need a couple of pints to unwind for the weekend. Mrs P and I take a 30 second stroll down to The Pear Tree, my new local. It has replaced the artist formerly known as The Fairway. The old pub was an eyesore and a blot on the landscape. It only took a few months to restore the place.

I have a couple of pints of 'Fool Proof' from the Caledonian Brewery. I miss the old jukebox in here. They'd often leave the back doors open on a hot summer's day, whilst I was spanking the Bombay Sapphire on the patio at my house. It would be accompanied with Boney M or the Bay City Rollers belting out from the public bar.

I dash home to keep Murphy the budgie up to speed on the latest score from Carrow Road as his beloved Canaries take on Middlesbrough. An Alex Tettey own goal puts the kibosh on Murphy celebrating anything this weekend. He asks for the 'Do not disturb' sign to be placed over his cage (towel) as he sulks on his swing.

Murphy's mood has not improved in the morning; he's asked that Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s Show is not switched on - the mardy little sod. It's not gone down too well that I'm travelling to Harrogate. The top of the Conference North is on a knife's-edge. It's a two horse race between Barrow AFC and AFC Fylde.

Danny Baker is broadcasting out in the USA for his Five Live Show. He's near to where the NASCAR Racing takes place. Baker is filming an eight part series called Cradle to the Grave, an adaption of his autobiography 'Going to Sea in a Sieve' which features Peter Kaye playing Baker's father, 'Spud.'

The journey through South and North Yorkshire is without incident. Darren is on board today. I've picked a pub in the affluent village of Ferrensby that requires a tick-off. The General Tarleton is way out of my league. It's a renovated 18th Century coaching inn, and a bloody posh un, at that.

We're pounced upon by a waiter who sounds like Rene from the sitcom 'Allo Allo.'There about 20 odd tables vacant, 'have I booked one?' No I bloody haven't. I only want a quick pint and a sandwich. After some banter we have a pint of Black Sheep and a beef with horseradish sauce sandwich.

It looks like folk are pouring in from the local Darby and Joan club. Those ladies will be dropping like flies if they clock my new Vans and blue shirt from Next. I'll have to put my first aid skills to the test at this rate. We 're comfortably the youngest in the pub by a country mile.

We can't exit the joint quick enough. It's a beautiful drive to Harrogate through the picturesque town of Knaresborough. We park just off the Wetherby Road, opposite 'Town's' ground. Harrogate has a population of 75,000 and in 1982 hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. Notable people born in the town include: footballers Andy O'Brien and John Scales, actor Hugo Speer and commentator Jon Champion. Electro-Techno band Utah Saints are from Harrogate - they are a personal favourite of 'The Auctioneer' who I worked with for many years.

We stretch our legs and manage to find the only council estate in the town. A Ford Capri flies around the corner and over a speed bump - I thought it was Bodie and Doyle from The Professionals. We pay £12 on the gate and £2.50 for a disappointing programme that is stuffed full of advertising. The ground is a beauty. I grab a cup of Punjana tea from 'Thompson's Tea Bar' and head over towards the 'Eddie Brown Stand' to hide from the sun for a few minutes. I while away the time amusing myself at the PA guy's choice in music. I roar with laughter when he plays 'Rasputin' by Boney M - I thought I was on the patio at home for a minute.

The pitch is patchy, the grass is short. Groundstaff try to revive it with water from sprinklers. Harrogate Town were founded in 1914. They are managed by former Lincoln City defender Simon Weaver, who played alongside Northern Ireland international Gareth McAuley when Big Keith Alexander was the boss of the Imps.

AFC Fylde, from Preston, are managed by former Tranmere defender Dave Challionor - he of the famous long-throw fame. Ironically the two sides could meet in the Conference Premier next season. A coach load of flat-cappers, with trays of pie and gravy, troop off in the direction of the goal their team will attack.

Harrogate start the game well and take a deserved lead with a deflected free kick from James Walshaw looping over the wall into the net. Dave Challinor is edgy and nervous. His team snatch at chances before scoring two in a minute on the stroke of half-time.

A guy walks by at the break as the PA bloke spins Madonna's 'Holiday' for the second time today. He has a cat in a flap on his head. He says he misheard the guys travelling say 'wear a flat cap.' It's Lancastrian humour at its best.

Two further goals in the second half for Fylde kill off any chances of a Harrogate comeback. 'Cat Flap Man' starts off a Conga in the Eddie Brown Stand, which all the Harrogate junior teams join in with amusement. It caps off another fine day in 'God's Own Country.'

Attendance: 704

Man of the Match: Danny Rowe

Monday, April 13, 2015

Grimethorpe Sports 7-1 New Bohemians

Easter is spent in God's own country. On Saturday we're up in York, staying over at my brother's house in the quaint village of Upper Poppleton. Sunday and Monday see us based in the village of Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales. The weather is kind to us as we hike the hills of Wharfedale, which is bathed in glorious, unseasonal sunshine. Pint of the day is in the Craven Arms up at Appletreewick. I was tipped the wink on this boozer by none other than blog legend, Trumpy Bolton.

I arrive home in Keyworth just in time for Sticky jnr's semi-final clash with our good friends from Kimberley. A smashing game of football is spoilt by a referee who has no man management skills or personality to handle a 'big game' or razor sharp audience. What should have been a night to remember for the Keyworth young guns turned into a Brian Rix farce.

I had planned to watch FC United up at Witton Albion, as 'The Skipper' didn't have a match this weekend. His semi-final against Heath Hayes is suddenly brought forward by a week. Mrs P kindly agrees to take him. It gives me the chance to visit a ground I've had my eye on for a while since excellent blogger 'The Onion Bag' rocked up here earlier in the season.

It's Friday evening and I'm in Nottingham city centre with Mrs P. I fancy an aperitif before pegging it up to the Theatre Royal to watch the stage version of Mark Haddon's award-winning book 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

I would have settled for a good old spit and sawdust public bar, but Mrs P is in tow and wants to go upmarket. We end up in one of those God forsaken chain bars called Revolution at Nottingham's Cornerhouse complex. I gently tap my fingers on the bar patiently waiting for ten minutes as barmen chop up cucumbers and mint for ridiculously overpriced cocktails. My patience finally snaps. I beckon Mrs P from her comfy seat and storm past a confused doorman, who I'd only said good evening to ten minutes ago.

I shout up a bottle of Becks and a glass of wine in the theatre bar and get gassing to Dringy who I've bumped into. The play is magnificent and worthy of a standing ovation.

It's Saturday morning, Mrs P has already skedaddled off to Cannock for the football. Murphy the budgie is in one of of his moods. He missed Brian Matthew's 25th anniversary show on Radio 2 last week because Sticky jnr overlaid after a night on the lash. He catches the last hour of Brian this morning. I leave him whistling to Frankie Valli's 'Beggin' as I dash down to the bookies in Ruddington to place some bets on the Grand National.

I jump onto the A614 and head up towards the A1. Paddy McGuinness is guesting on the Danny Baker Show. Baker asks him who his favourite ever footballer is. The Bolton fan replies Jay Jay Okocha. The A1 southbound is gridlocked. Some poor sod has died in an accident. The police are recovering a vehicle.

I notice signs for Pontefract. I was given the impression by one of their officials on a messageboard that I wouldn't be welcome up there for having the audacity to lambast their management team for using foul and abusive language.I'm soon driving through Goldthorpe towards Grimethorpe. These places are synonymous with the Miners' Strike in the 1980s.

Grimethorpe is a village in the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley with a population of 2000. At its height the merged colliery once had a workforce of 6000. The mine was closed in 1992. In 1994 an EU study on deprivation listed Grimethorpe as the poorest village in the country. £164 million was pumped into the area. 50 new businesses sprung up, providing 5000 new jobs.

I pass factories and distribution centres on the outskirts of the village. A sad statistic I did notice is that more men died at the mine than did during two World Wars. The village is in far better shape than I'd imagined. I mistakingly pull into the Working Men's Club, before finding the entrance to the Grimethorpe Sports Ground.

A covered stand has signage above it saying 'Grimet' the 'horpe' is missing. Two teenage boys and two girls are sat on the wall. "What happened to the 'horpe' in 'Grimet'?" I enquire. "Someone 'borrowed' it" pipes up one of the lads. "Are you a 'Bobby'?" asks the other boy. I've got one of my new range of coats on from Next. It'll probably have the ladies in Grimethorpe in all of a lather.

I'm asked again if I'm a Bobby while I take photos of the WMC. Wounds have been slow to heal since the Miners Strike, when Maggie Thatcher sent up to South Yorkshire some of the Metropolitan's finest thugs.

The ground provides a wonderful vista. They even have crash barriers at the top of a grass bank, to lean on and admire the beautiful countryside. I'd already ridden up to the local junior school to take a picture at the entrance of the old pit wheels.

I chance upon a gang of youths swigging from cans of Strongbow cider. I ask about the adjoining cricket pitch. "Not played in ages, team were disbanded, full of drunks." All that is left is an artificial strip. I ask the same youth what he does for a living: "I'm the local knobhead, and him, see him, (pointing at his mate) is a smackhead." I'd already seen remnants of a fire in the stand opposite, where local druggies congregate at night.

Grimethorpe Sports are unbeaten this season in the South Yorkshire Amateur League. The visitors, New Bohemians, are third from bottom and leaking goals. Today I'm a goal whore. The referee is only about 17 and has no linesmen. The players treat him with respect, never questioning any decisions. Grimethorpe are 3-0 up at the break and go on to win the game 7-1. The highlight of the game is the goal scored by the visitors, who have stuck to their task.

The ground and club need some tender loving care and a hug. I'm told the under 14s are their only junior club. The ground is tragic, but also beautiful. It will go straight into my top five, just for those reasons.

Mrs P backed the winner of the National. £43 isn't a bad return for a £1 each way stake.

Attendance: 20

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Barton Town Old Boys 0-3 Cleethorpes Town

I've been losing interest in professional football for sometime now. As a kid I used to be obsessed with the job lot. Back in the day I'd get my father, who was a journalist with the Daily Mirror, to ring up the Sports Desk late at night on a Wednesday evening to find out the Lincoln City's final score, otherwise you wouldn't have found out until the morning papers arrived the next day.

Today the media is saturated with football coverage. There are dedicated sports channels and radio stations. It's took away all the enjoyment for me with its over analysis and waffle of the pundits. It's still a lifetime ambition to visit and see a game on all 92 grounds. I'd planned to visit ground No.76 on Good Friday, for the clash of two Lancashire clubs: Morecambe and Accrington Stanley. Blog legend Trumpy Bolton had agreed to accompany me.

It's Wednesday evening and I'm at my wits end. Not only is another episode of the ghastly Midsomer Murders on ITV, but it's also bucketing down with rain in the north west of the country. I punch out 'T' for Trumpy on my mobile. I express  concern over a potential 300 mile round trip to Morecambe to see a game that might be hosed off. A sober Bolton (he doesn't touch a drop on a school night) asks about an alternative venue. "How about Barton Town v Cleethorpes Town near the Humber Bridge, Wetherspoons at Brigg serve ale after 09:00am?"

A bleary-eyed Bolton trudges down his drive at 07:45am, as Sticky performs a three point turn from out the Reginald Molehusband manual (one for the older generation). He's got his litre of cider securely stashed in a Disney Store plastic bag. Mrs Trumpy must have bought their granddaughter a cuddly toy from the store. Trumpy calls her Elsie Mo after the award-winning pale ale from the Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham.

He takes a huge slurp of cider to wash down the toasted teacake he chewed on for breakfast. Murphy's hero, Alan Dedicoat, hasn't even read out the 8 o'clock news on Radio 2 yet. He salutes the soon to be opened Pear Tree in our village. We both have a good old groan and moan as Arsenal supporting self-promoting northerner Sara Cox's annoying dulcet tones are heard across the airwaves, accompanied by some wretched Christina Aguileri song.

Bolton is all set for two nights in Chepstow over the weekend, as he continues his quest to make a financial transaction in every village, town and city in England, Wales and Scotland - I kid you not.

We both have a laugh over the deluge of rain at Bury last Saturday which made Southend United manager Phil Brown's fake tan run - sorry Shrimper fans if you made the trip. Trumpy says he won't miss sacked Notts County manager Shaun Derry, with his V-neck jumpers, shirt, tie and ridiculously tight trousers.

We hit the market town of Brigg at just gone 9:00am. The White Horse, a Wetherspoons establishment, has only been open a few months. "Bloody hell, it's a bit quiet in here love", remarks an already booze-fuelled Bolton. "It's only 9 o'clock darling, wait until midday, it'll be bumper to bumper" quips the blonde barmaid.

The legend treats me to a full English and an Americano. He plays around with his bacon cob, whilst potting a pint of Ruddles ale and a cider. We're soon parked up on a grass verge on the edge of Barton upon-Humber staring out towards the Humber Estuary and the Humber Bridge shrouded in mist.

The annoying Zoe Ball is hosting Pop Master on Radio 2. After an even first round, Bolton finds a second gear and gives Sticky a thorough going over. Hoards of Hoppers are heading out this way, as it is Day Two of the NCEL Groundhop. I take the executive decision to street park away from the ground to avoid being blocked in. It looks like the 'Groundhop Tour Bus' has managed to achieve this, as cars try to squeeze by in an attempt to park in the ground.

Barton upon Humber is a town in North Lincolnshire with a population just shy of 10,000. Isaac Pitman, the inventor of shorthand hand writing was once a Master at the Free Charity School in the town.

It's £5 on the gate and £1.50 for a bumper programme. The conditions are overcast. There are puddles of standing water on the nearest touchline. The pitch is already cutting up badly. The place is mobbed with Hoppers from all over the country. Trumpy emerges from the bar with another pint of bitter as I get gassing to a chap from Harlow.

I clock clean-shaven Cleethorpes manager Marcus Newell. He looks less scary than he did at Wisbech Town earlier in the season, when he sported a beard and looked like he burst a blood vessel in his neck when they exited the FA Vase. He chews gum more furiously than Wee Billy Davies and Sam Allardyce put together.

Cleethorpes take a battering for the first 40 minutes as Old Boys football them off the park. 9 Jacket, Scott Phillips, is too hot to handle. His touch is majestic, headers are cushioned, not a ball is wasted, unlike the chances that his side spurn, in a one sided first half. When a chance comes their way, the Owls of Cleethorpe take advantage. Brody Robertson curls a 20 yard shot into the bottom corner of the onion bag to give the visitors an undeserved lead.

The guy next to me is a proper hopper. He has a stopwatch and jots down the time of the goal and who the scorer is in his notebook. He's visited over a 1000 grounds and tries to watch 5 games a week. Trumpy nearly chokes on his second homemade chicken curry when the guy mentions his missus is driving up from Essex to spend the night with him in a hotel in Wakefield.

Old Boys have lost their best player in Phillips, who has picked up a hamstring injury. Cleethorpes finish the game off with two late strikes, the first of which sees the whole team pile onto the Owl mascot, who has his head ripped off during the raucous celebrations.

There's still time for the legend and I to visit four more pubs, including the delightful Dam Busters, in Scampton near Lincoln, with all it's fantastic RAF war memorabilia.

Attendance: 510

Man of the Match: Trumpy Bolton

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Norwich City 3-1 Nottingham Forest

I've got this little budgie called Murphy, he's not named after the twins Jacob and Josh at Norwich City, but former Lincoln City manager Colin Murphy. He was born in Handsworth in Sheffield, the same place as the actor Sean Bean. He's supported Norwich City since he was a little lad; it's because he sports the same colours.

It's Tuesday evening, Mrs P is watching those two twonks on Masterchef. Murphy is sat on my shoulder staring at the Live Scores app on my phone. He suddenly starts crying and blubbering like a little baby. I glance at my phone, James Vaughan has put the Terriers of Huddersfield 2-1 up against the Canaries of Norwich in the 96th minute. Within two minutes he's pecking on the glass of my mobile in delight as Jamaican youngster Jamar Loza poaches an equaliser with the last kick of the game.

It's Saturday morning, Murphy is nowhere to be seen. He's upped and gone, flapping his wings on the long journey east to Norwich. The Big Man (the artist formerly known as White Van Man) had forgot to buy my feathered friend a train ticket. I'm up at the Big Man's for a full English. The fried eggs are served sunny side up. Breakfast is mopped up with a slice of bread and butter.

'Rotton' drives us to Nottingham train station in his Mini. Sticky squeezes into the back, as the Big Man rides shotgun side. It's a gruelling 15 minute drive due to Capital FM being station of choice. I have a bit of moan. He changes it to Smooth FM. Now that's better. We meet Bruiser at the station. He annoys the taxi driver by blasting his horn to sound his arrival. He's still cooing over his tick-off at Marseille's stadium in the South of France a few weekends ago.

The train departs bang on time and is soon rattling its way through Grantham and Peterborough. There are a few Chesterfield fans making their way to London Road to watch the Spireites. The Big Man reads the Mirror and terrors a few 'rowdy birds' on Facebook, while Bruiser gives me the lowdown on the Tricky Trees - I haven't watch them since December 2013.

We're met off the train by Keyworth United legend Dean Bennett and his family. Deano lives just outside Norwich city centre. Norwich  lies on the River Wensum in the county of Norfolk, with a population of 140,000. It has the most visited library in England. It had 1.3 million visitors in 2013. ITV Anglia is based in the city. Famous custodians from the area include: news reader Carol Barnes, war heroine Edith Cavell, turkey farmer Bernard Matthews, actor Sir John Mills, Horatio Nelson, singer Cathy Dennis, politician Ed Balls and footballers Danny Mills and Chris Martin.

I once visited Carrow Road back in 2004, whilst touring 107 grounds in five days for charity. Club legend Darren Huckerby very kindly gave me a signed football which raised £100 at an auction. Former striker Chris Sutton is never mentioned in our house. He is solely responsible for the demise of my club, Lincoln City.

Record appearances for the Canaries is held by 'keeper Kevin Keelan at 673. Record transfer fee received is £8 million from QPR for Leroy Fer. They shelled out £8.5 million on Dutch flop Ricky Van Wolfswinkel from Sporting CP. He's currently been farmed out on loan to St Etienne. Players to have played for both Forest and Norwich include: Dave Phillips, Jim Brennan, Matthieu Louis-Jean, Justin Fashanu, Darren Huckerby, Chris Woods, Ian Butterworth, Rob Earnshaw, Gary Holt ( now Norwich 1st team coach) and Grant Holt.

We wander through Norwich's version of Nottingham's Cornerhouse complex. We finally tip up at Wetherspoons' the Queen of Iceni. The place is mobbed out with folk. I sink three pints of 1664. News is filtering through that Middlesbrough and Brentford are both getting beaten. Bruiser is a proper shirker when it comes to drinking. He double-parks a couple of Foster shandies. There's a good ambience in the bar, with both sets of fans chanting.

It's been an expensive day The train ticket is £42, match ticket £35. The programme is great value at £3 and a terrific read. I leave Bruiser and the Big Man tucking into some of Delia's award-winning pies. I take my seat in The Jarrold Stand and admire the view, but not the pitch, which looks sub standard.

Forest kick against a swirling wind. Gardner and Lansbury sit deep as the Tricky Trees invite Norwich to attack. The Canaries full backs hug the touchline, peppering the penalty area with an endless stream of crosses which are dealt with superbly by Wilson and the impressive Lascelles.

Plan A bites the dust, Blackstock pulls a hamstring and is withdrawn. The dangerous Antonio is drafted in from the wing to become a lone ranger. Ruddy hares off his line to save bravely from him. Osborne stings the 'keeper's hands with another effort. Forest look dangerous on the counterattack, but it's Norwich that have a lion's share of the possession.

It looks job done for the tactically astute Dougie Freedman as Forest soak up the pressure, with Darlow relatively untroubled. With seconds remaining, and within the blink of an eye, Norwich take the lead following a wonderful move started from the back. The ball is threaded through the eye of needle to Howson who somehow squeezes his shot past Darlow.

There's a mesmerising spell of play from Norwich in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Mancienne, a square peg in a round hole, is getting terrorised at right back. Another cross comes in from Olsson, it's cheekily back heeled into the net by Jerome.

Norwich are rampant. Chris Burke lazily fails to track back, Olsson takes a tumble, it's a stonewall penalty. Hoolahan scores his first goal at Carrow Road in over two years. The Canary faithful suddenly find their voice, including Murphy Palmer, who I swear is perched on the gantry.

A goal is pulled back after Ruddy parries an effort from Patterson, with Burke close on hand to tap home. A Lascelles header is chalked off with the hapless Ruddy cleaning windows.

The score and performance is too much to take for the usually partisan Bruiser. He is the original 'the bloke behind me.' It takes it's toll on the three guys in front of us who depart the stadium to escape Bruiser's effing, jeffing and constant moaning with ten minutes remaining.

There's an eventual end to the day when the train home is delayed and the British Transport Police summoned as drunken, loutish Forest fans fall out with one another over seating arrangements.

Man of the Match: Wes Hoolahan

Attendance: 26,976

Monday, March 9, 2015

Underwood Villa Res 2-1 Keyworth United Res

It's a cold and blustery Sunday morning. I've been itching to go on this walk for time. I drive the 'Rolls Royce' through the leafy suburb of West Bridgford and over Trent Bridge. Nottingham Forest's wonderful, established football stadium, The City Ground, towers above the banks of the River Trent. I turn off London Road, past the Cattle Market. I pull up on Meadow Lane, outside the oldest Football League club in the world.

I worked tirelessly for the Pies for over seven years as Head of Recruitment at their Academy. I sometimes sacrificed watching my own boys play the beautiful game to be sent on a scouting mission in the back and beyond. It didn't matter a jot to some folk down there. It broke my heart to leave the Club. I had to resign as a matter of principle. Mrs P is with me. We walk down to Iremonger Road; it's named after legendary Notts' 'keeper Albert Iremonger, who made 564 appearances between 1905-1925.

It's a breathtaking three mile walk down the canal towpath. You can see at first glance the development that has taken place in our wonderful city. Anglers cast out for Bream, Perch and Gudgeon. Joggers pound the pavement, running endless miles in training regimes for their next marathon. Cyclists ring their bells to gain our attention.

We stop for coffee on Arkwright Street. I gaze out the window towards the architectural 1970s disaster that is Broadmarsh. The guy who rubber-stamped what was once voted the ugliest building in Nottingham has probably passed away by now. I bump into Big D on the canal. That's what's great about Nottingham, it's full of characters who make me laugh.

It's Friday evening, and after a stressful week at work, it's time to chillax. I'm in the Gamston Lock pub with the lads from work. It's my second appearance here in seven days. I down a couple of pints of Cocker Hoop from the Jennings Brewery up in Cumbria. One of the lads from work spills a full pint down my trousers. It doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for the evening ahead. The highlight is a couple of pints of Punk IPA in the Brew Dog in Hockley.

Christ, I'm rough as a badger's backside on Saturday morning. Murphy Palmer the budgie is still sulking over Norwich City's midweek 1-0 reverse against Wigan Athletic. Wigan, is of course, the home of Northern Soul. Murphy has banned this genre of music in our house until further notice. I've had to box up my Edwin Starr collection and carry it up to the loft. Murphy threatens to attack the aerial of my DAB radio if Brian Matthew plays a Northern Soul track on his Radio 2 show this morning.

Mrs P drops 'The Skipper' off for his Midland Junior Premier League cup tie on Saturday morning. I slope off up the Keyworth Bistro for a hearty breakfast. Our Joe's team look in fine fettle as they coast to victory in the first round of the cup against a team from Shrewsbury.

First team manager James 'Tosh' Turner is parading around the ground in his QPR tracksuit. He spent last night with his pal Jermaine Jenas at Noel Gallagher's Flying Birds gig at the Nottingham Arena. Rumour has it Tosh even got to go in the dressing room. Word spreads around the ground that Jenas and Gallagher are due down any minute. It's got to be a wind up.

I leave Tosh to roll the pitch on his tractor and head off up the Nottingham ring road and onto the A610. I decline an invitation to watch MK Dons v Preston North End in League One.The brilliant Big John Murray is commentating at Valley Parade on the Bradford v Reading FA Cup tie. Former Pies midfielder Gary Liddle sees a shot come off the post.

I drive through Eastwood, past the D H Lawrence Heritage Centre. A few years ago I thought I was being stalked by this groundhopper. Every game I went to, he would tip up at too. One Saturday I decided to visit the birthplace of D H Lawrence on Victoria Street in Eastwood. I was sitting in David Herbert's bedroom listening to a talk by one of the guides, when there was a knock at the door and in waltzed that bloody groundhopper. I couldn't chuffing believe it.

I roll through the village of Brinsley before pitching up in Underwood. D H Lawrence courted a lass from here who lived at Hagg's Farm. Back in the day this area was a colliery district. I had hoped to have a swift one at the Red Lion on Church Lane, which has an entry in the 'Lucky Dip' section of the Good Pub Guide. To be honest I'm still feeling fragile from Friday night, so decide to give the boozer the swerve.

I find Bracken Park, the home of Underwood Villa just off the Mansfield Road. The brick built clubhouse sits above the two football pitches. I can see Keyworth Utd are being put through their paces. The No.7 looks gangly. He wears socks over his knees and has black cycling shorts on. I see one of his trademark mazy runs, despite it being a passing drill. It's my lad of course - Sticky junior. He has represented his village for 14 years.

This is the lowest level of football I've blogged in eight years of groundhopping. I've no regrets. There are woods to the right. The setting is beautiful, the skies blue-painted, with a slight westerly breeze.

It's Division 2 of the NSL. What I do like though is that both teams invest in youth. Sticky junior's usual manager isn't here today. My lad has a lot of time for him. He's brilliant at motivation and relaxing the boys in the changing room.

Seasoned veteran Dave Fisk is helping out in Lee's absence. He always has an encouraging word or two for junior. Underwood has always produced good players. We picked up a lad for Notts at 16 years old, who went on to become a scholar with the Pies.

There isn't much doing in the first half The referee takes one in the chops following a Normington stray clearance. The game is in desperate need of a goal. Keyworth hold all the aces, particularly with young Goran Seymour on the left. They take the lead with a beautifully executed goal, which is started by young Tom Randall on the right and finished with a low drive by Seymour, following unselfish work by Burrell.

I hook up with Alan and Dave in the clubhouse. Alan kindly buys me a coffee as we watch the half times roll in. I glance at the food menu in the bar. I'm not really in the mood for any of Nobby's Nuts or a Fredo bar.

It's one way traffic in the second half, as the wind whips up. Young junior sees little of the ball. He seems to be receiving mixed messages from the coaching staff, when it's clear he should be tucking in a good 15 metres or so, as Villa run riot down the right hand side.

Villa restore parity with a comedy goal. Harbottle in the nets, who always sports a cap when around at our house, forgets his headwear for the game. A low sun catches him out, his reflexes are too late, a 35 yard free-kick somehow finds it way into the net. The winner comes ten minutes later, following Villa's umpteenth corner of the second half.

Junior and Goran are substituted. My lad is frustrated at not getting on the ball. I tell him to keep his chin up. There's always next week.

Attendance: 23 (Head Count)

Man of the Match: Goran Seymour

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