Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lutterworth Athletic 2-3 Irchester United

It's 8:45 on a Saturday morning. I'm stood chinwagging to White Van Man in the Keyworth Tavern car park. A ruddy-faced gentleman emerges from a car. He's wearing a navy blue Berghaus coat, a blue and yellow-striped polo shirt and tracksuit bottoms. Tucked under his arm are four cans of Tanglefoot ale from the Badger Brewery. He's probably already necked a can of McEwans and had pate on toast for breakfast.

The chap's name is Trumpy Bolton. He has dominated the pages of this blog for over six years. Today is his stag weekend. We're off to Hull, via Goole, final destination: Rotterdam. The banter is flying about on the mini bus, as Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s show on Radio 2 is piped out the speakers. I'm already pining for Murphy the budgie. We're seldom apart.

We mull over the morning papers during a breakfast stop at the City and County 'Spoons' in Goole. Everyone has a tip or two for the Grand National. We have the race covered off. Next stop is the port of Hull. Famous Hullensians include: William Wilberforce, Amy Johnson, Sir Tom Courtenay, Maureen Lipman, Paul Heaton of The Housemartins, John Prescott, Dean Windass and Nicky Barmby.

We're holed up in another Wetherspoons. The boys are happy though, racing from Aintree is on the big screen. There's complete and utter silence as Pineau De Re romps home in the National. The pub floor is decorated in ripped up betting slips.

It's carnage on the ferry to Rotterdam. Over 100 Dutch marines mob the casino and main bar area. Little Clem breakdances and spins on his head. A Dutch marine matches him pound for pound. Mr Moonshine, fresh from the National, shows his behind through the stage curtains. Boat security guards whisk our man away to a standing ovation from both the Dutch and English contingent. Thankfully all the kids are in bed.

Eight sore heads make their way to Rotterdam by coach. Big and Little Clem tip up 2 hours later in a rickshaw, having been booted out their cabin by 'our friends' from Security. Highlight of the day is seeing 'White Van Man' forking out out nearly 8 Euros for a vodka.

We watch 'The Arsenal' suffer a 3-0 drubbing at Goodison Park in a tidy little Irish Bar in the drinking quarter of the city. The trip home is less eventful but just as enjoyable as Fod and Trumpy come to the party. I retire to my pit at 2:00pm back in Nottingham after a few sherberts enroute home. I'm too old for this.

It's Saturday morning and I'm down on the banks of the River Trent at Dunkirk FC's Lenton Lane ground. 'The Skipper' is refereeing a top of the table junior football game. It's an absolute cracker and has the lot. Unfortunately it ends 0-0. Sticky Palms doesn't do 0-0s. I'm flipping fuming. The last one I saw was Hinckley v Luton in the FA Trophy. Andre Gray skinned the Hatters alive that night. He signed for Luton for £20,000 the following day. He's leading scorer in the Conference Premier. Wonder what he's worth now?

The ride to Lutterworth is a piece of cake.  We exit at Junction 20. Mrs P has nicked the Tom Tom. I've scribbled down a route to a pub called the Grey Goose in the village of Gilmorton. It has a lavish bar and open fire. I grab a sandwich and a pint of San Miguel.

It's a short drive to Lutterworth Athletic's Hall Park complex. Lutterworth is a market town in the Harborough district of Leicestershire, with a population of 8,000. In the days of the stagecoach Lutterworth was a stopping place on the road from Leicester to Oxford and London.

Sir Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine, developed some of the world's first jet engines at the British Thomson Houston works in Lutterworth. The Brightwell brothers, David and Ian, were born in the town.

I can hear Sky's signature tune 'Alive and Kicking' by Simple Minds as I part with £5 on the gate. The programme is £1 and frankly a waste of money. It's a typical out of town ground; soulless and characterless. Although they do have the Mark English Stand on the far side of the ground. The grass could do with cutting too.

The turnstile operator is on good form though. "I'd have sent you down Costa Coffee in town if I'd know you were going to drink that muck they serve in the Clubhouse." Big Clem sends me a message to see if I'm popping down to the NSL Groundhop Day at Keyworth United. 370 hoppers have rocked up at Platt Lane.

Lutterworth look like they been told to turn up and they'll win. Irchester take the lead early on and look sharp in the final third. To be fair Finley my rabbit and Murphy the budgie could run rings around the 'Atho' back four. Irchester don't look like a side with no wins in 12 games, while you'd be shocked to hear that Lutterworth are in the top three. The visitors take a well deserved 3-1 scoreline into the break with them.

The wind drops leaving cotton wool shaped clouds and blue skies. The visitors fail to put the game to bed as the missed chances stack up. Lutterworth pull one back, leaving Irchester's nerves jangling for the final 20 minutes.

Attendance: 30 (head count)

Man of the Match: Big Clem & Little Clem

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hallam 0-2 Shirebrook Town

An invitation to the Wedding of the Year popped through the letterbox this week. Blog legend Trumpy Bolton will be tying the knot in May. The ceremony will take place at the Rothley Court Hotel in Leicestershire. It's a place that former England Test captain was allegedly caught with his pants down. The chambermaid left his room tidy.

Plans were afoot for a stag weekend in the Isle of Man. I quite fancied a night in Liverpool, followed by a trip on the ferry and a stop-over in Douglas. We'd even been invited to attend a game in the Isle of Man Premier League by a chairman of a club. Imagine my horror on discovering that we now face a day In Hull, two nights on a North Sea ferry and eight hours in Rotterdam. Trumpy can't half pick em.

The weekend is a quiet one on the football front. My under 16s nick a point off Radcliffe Olympic. I celebrate in the Rancliffe Arms, in the village of Bunny, with a homemade steak and kidney pie washed down with a couple of pints of Jennings Lakeland Stunner.

It's Sunday afternoon. I've had a miserable morning up in D H Lawrence territory. I went to watch a lad play who quit the club the week before. It's a no show from him and Sticky ain't happy. I get the lawn mower out, well actually it's Finley Palmer the rabbit, who doubles-up as the worst non league pundit this country has ever seen.

I mow my back lawn up and down for over half an hour. I catch the little monkey scampering down to the bottom of the garden and diving under the shed. He remains there for over three hours. I entice the Bolt out with a carrot.

Hallam FC's Sandygate Lane is the 'Oldest Ground in the World.' Quite how I've failed to chalk it off in eight years of groundhopping remains a mystery. The M1 is a pain in the arse with its long stretches of two lane carriageway with 50mph speed limits.

I've Simon Mayo and his Radio 2  'Confessions' for comfort. He plays Southern Soul Memphis band Booker T and the MG's 1962 smash hit 'Green Onions.' Bloody hell, who's responsible for the road system in Sheffield. It doesn't help matters that I've not updated my Tom Tom for six years. After what seems an eternity a rather grumpy and stressed out Groundhopper arrives in the leafy, middle-class suburb of Crosspool (population 7000) in Sheffield. Olympic athlete Sebastian Coe was brought up in the area.

Hallam FC were formed in 1860 and are the second oldest football club in the world. Former Owls and 'Dirty Leeds' manager Howard Wilkinson once played for the club. In 2010 well known local referee Uriah Rennie was unveiled as Club President.

I pull into the car park of a tired-looking Plough Inn, opposite the ground. I could do with a bite to eat but the barman says that they don't serve food on a Monday and Tuesday. The place is as dead as doornail. The classic tune 'Take it Easy' by the Walker Brothers is followed up by Thin Lizzy's 'Killer on the Loose' on the pub's i-Pod shuffle. I quaff a pint of Farmer Blonde from the Bradfield Brewery in Sheffield. It's a beauty, to be fair. And so is the ground across the road.

It's £5 on the gate. In 2010 a supporter of the Club, Roger Bell, left hundreds of thousands of pounds in his will to Hallam FC. They have spent the money wisely. There's a beautiful, brick-built clubhouse as you enter the ground. The main stand, with its blue and white tip-up seats, provides a birds-eye view of the surrounding countryside and neighbouring cricket club. I grab a sausage roll from the tea hut as I amble around the ground. I stand at the bottom of the vicious slope and admire the beauty and charm of this glorious old ground.

Shirebrook Town, from north Nottinghamshire are warming-up behind the far goal. It's the birthplace of Elephant Man actor John Hurt. I take note of their accuracy in the shooting drill prior to the game. They take an early lead in the fourth minute with Aaron Pride blasting the ball into the net.

I notice former Nottingham Forest striker Tom Mullen is playing up top for the visitors. He trialled for Rangers after being released by the Tricky Trees, but suffered a serious knee injury.

There's certainly no love lost between the two sides as the tackles fly in. Referee Daniel Bennett from West Yorkshire is dishing out more cards than Clintons. Both sides return to the dressing room with the full compliment of players.

I reckon the Hallam PA guy has been on the Farmer Blonde. The sound system is spewing out Billy Ocean's 'Red Light Spells Danger.' Surely referee Bennett will be marching up to the Press Box to brandish a red card for this off-the-ball incident.

Shirebrook 'keeper Sam Andrew has been impressive in the first period. His communication and distribution are first-class. A neighbouring fan remarks how he's a dead ringer for Westlife 'singer' Brian McFadden.

Shirebrook put the game to bed with a close range finish by the unfortunately named Steven Wankiewicz. I exit the main stand and walk past a proper hopper, whose programme sits neatly in a plastic cover, whilst mine is scrunched up in my back pocket.

Attendance: 45

Man of the Match: The Walker Brothers

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wellingborough Town 2-3 Spalding United

I'm driving the 'Rolls Royce' down University Boulevard. Nottingham University is on my right, whilst to my left are the Nottingham Science Park and Nottingham Tennis Centre. I swing into Beeston Hockey Club and drive down a dirt track.

Former Great Britain shotput champion Geoff Capes is a guest on the Danny Baker Show. Capes is a keen budgerigar breeder. He says that some budgies can live up to 20 years. I best not relay this news to anyone in our house - no-one likes Murphy Palmer, my budgie. I've not been to Holbeach United's ground, where Geoff is from. Perhaps Murphy and I can take a game in and drop in for tea.

I can hear the sound of footballs being kicked and coaches barking out instructions. I watch a game for half an hour or so. Notts County Youth Team are playing on the next pitch. I can see my boss, Mick, on the far side of the pitch, alongside the other coaches.

I spot former Nottingham Forest and England midfielder Steve 'Harry' Hodge lurking near some trees. He's here to watch his son play. Jordan Richards is playing on the right flank. I went to watch him on four occasions for Grantham Town Under 16s before he finally signed a scholarship with the Club last May.

The game is scrappy and the pitch is bone hard. I leave just before half time with the score goalless. The M1 to Northamptonshire is trouble free. I clock a minibus full of Stags fans on their way to the soulless Sixfields Stadium to take on the in-form Cobblers of Northampton.

I'm playing Radio Roulette. The best song I hear is Soft Cell's 1982 hit 'Torch.' I know a pub I frequented a few weeks back who serve up decent snap. I drop into the Stags Head at Great Doddington. I shout up a Kronebourg and devour a plate of ham, egg and chips. Caro Emerald's album is on the pub's sound system. My boss from Notts phones to say the U18s have beaten Rotherham 5-0.
The Dog and Duck ground is only a short drive away. Wellingborough is a market town and borough in Northamptonshire, that lies on the River Nene. It has a population just shy of 50,000. Well known former residents include: Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, Bauhaus frontman Pete Murphy, snooker player Peter Ebdon and former Coventry and Luton midfielder David Bell. The broadcaster Sir David Frost attended Wellingborough Grammar School. I pass a road enroute to the ground called Frost Close.

Wellingborough Town were originally formed in 1867 and are nicknamed the Doughboys. Notable former players include: former Liverpool full back Phil Neal and Vic Watson who signed for West Ham United in 1920 and who scored over 300 goals in a 15 year career at Upton Park.

I pull into what I think is the car park for Wellingborough Town. It's actually the home of United Counties League Division One team Wellingborough Whitworth. I'm fleeced of £2 and told that if I choose to park at the retail park across the road then I'll probably get clamped.

It's £6 on the gate. I'm instantly attracted to the ground. Folk sit on chairs on the patio outside the clubhouse, drinking refreshments. Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' booms out the PA system. I watch the Tulips from Spalding do a short, basic drill. Their bald-headed No.6 is excitable and highly-strung. I earmark him for an early booking or telling-off.

I walk past the the brightly blue and yellow painted Peter Ebdon Stand. The pitch is worn and heavily sanded in the goalmouth areas. The teams walk out to Sash 'Encore Une Fois.' Spalding United are 22 points clear at the top of the table. Confidence is sky high. I manage to scribble down the teams despite the PA guy having a Norman Collier moment.

The visitors take the lead in controversial circumstances with the ref's assistant flagging that a header had crossed the line. The Doughboys gaffer is giving the lino pelters across the pitch. 'Webby' is running around like a headless chicken. He talks the talk but ain't half bad in the air for a little un. Parity is restored from the penalty spot following a blatant foul. There's a commotion going off at the ground next door. I shimmy up a concrete fencepost to see someone belt home a penalty in the Wellingborough Whitworth game. A bullet header from Nathan Stainfield puts the League leaders 2-1 up at the break.

What the bloody hell is this on the PA. The DJ has dipped into his personal record collection and is playing Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon.' Even Thom Yorke's Radiohead are less depressing than this. Spalding sit on their slender lead as Wellingborough fight tooth and nail. They deservedly equalise from a corner. They then contrive to fluff a sitter, only to see Spalding substitute Josh Ford seize onto a through ball and thump home the winner. The Tulips can even afford themselves a late penalty miss.

Man of the Match: Jamie Brassington


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Norton United 0-1 Glossop North End

I'm shivering and shaking at Radcliffe Olympic's Wharf Lane ground. I'm stood with perennial moaner The Taxman. The game is in its dying embers. There's a minute to go and the score is 6-3. We slope off to the Keyworth Tavern for a real ale. I check the score on returning home. It's 7-4! It would have been my highest aggregate score of all time.

The weekend is dominated by football once again. I draw a blank scouting in Clifton, an area famous for raising footballers such as England's first black full international player, Viv Anderson and former Norwich City striker Darren Huckerby. Saturday afternoon is spent in the affluent town of Southwell. Sol Campbell was rumoured to have been moving out here during his ill-feted short stay at The Pies in the Munto and Sven era. I'll make no bones about it, my Under 16s are bottom of Division One, whilst Southwell are flying the flag at the summit. We play a beautiful game and are delighted come away with a 2-2 draw. It feels like a win.

It's Sunday afternoon. I'm back home from scouting and rooting around in the garage. I've bought a new bike. The skies are glorious, with the sun beating down. I pedal out into the countryside for the first time in two years. An hour later I arrive home beetroot faced and breathless. 'Stella Sunday' is restricted to three cans. I let notorious, crap Non League tipster, Finley Palmer, out for his first run of the season. He lies on his back and lets me brush him.

I spend Sunday evening flicking through the Sunday Mirror TV listings. I’m steaming when I noticed that the BBC have commissioned Michael McIntyre to host a chat show. Middle class suburbia will be wetting themselves with excitement.

4:30 on Tuesday can't come quick enough. I love the North West Counties League: it's fast, furious and violent. An intriguing top of the table clash is taking place tonight in Burslem, home to pub singer and Port Vale shareholder, Robbie Williams.

I leave my car at Gotham, a place recently in the news, due to some joker (get it?) pinching the village sign as a souvenir in memory of comic book superheroes heroes Batman and Robin. Phil is piloting. The A453 is to be avoided at all costs. We slip through the back of Kegworth and onto the A50. Former Radio Nottingham DJ Simon Mayo keeps us company on his Radio 2 Drivetime show.

It's time for a spot of tea at The Dapple Grey in the horse-racing market town of Uttoxeter. Sticky Palms favourite screen writer and film director, Shane Meadows, is from these parts. An Amstel is swilled the down the hatch with a Cajun chicken burger for company. We reach Stoke at the fag end of rush hour.

Burslem is known as the 'Mother Town.' It is one of six towns amalgamated to form the city of Stoke on-Trent. It has a population of 21,000. Dart players Phil 'The Power' Taylor,Ted Hankey and Motorhead bassist and vocalist, Lemmy were born in the area.

The Community Drive ground is situated off an estate, perched on top of a hill with panoramic views of Stoke city centre. It's £5 on the gate. This ground has been on the hitlist for sometime. Uwdi Krugg from the brilliant 'Where's the Tea Hut' brought it to my attention. I adore grounds that aren't out in the wilderness and remain in the heart of the community.

It has a unique two-tier view as you walk in from the turnstile. You can watch the game from above the stand. I wander past the nearest goal and pick a spot to the left of the away dugout. Glossop North End are the visitors. They are in a fine run of form. Glossop is a market town in the High Peak of Derbyshire with a population of over 30,000. The fashion designer Vivienne Westwood was a pupil at the local grammar school.

I bump into a Glossop supporter who is worse for wear. I recall the hey-days of the 2008/2009 FA Vase run.  I saw them score a last ditch winner in their 4th round tie with Stewart & Lloyds from Corby.

The pace of the game is frightening and the tackling ferocious. The referee blows his whistle more than a Bow Street Runner. Glossop have guile and skill. Norton rely on huff, puff and hoof.

Everyone is so friendly. A Norton substitute appreciates that we have travelled from Nottingham. I exchange small talk with a Stokie groundhopper, whose love of the game is a beautiful moment to share.

The referee is missing loads of off-the-ball. The linesman on our side is neither use nor ornament. The Glossop 'keeper wipes out a Norton forward just outside the penalty area. No action is taken by the official.

We traipse up to the refreshment bar for a piping hot cup of coffee. Thankfully Williams hasn't been wheeled out to 'sing'a few tunes as part of the half time entertainment.

The second half is scrappy. Glossop are by far the better side. The goal they deserve is worth the gate money. The ball is shifted around the midfield, it finally finds its way to  Kieran Lugsden, who finishes emphatically to give the Hillmen a deserved victory.

Attendance: 105

Man of the Match: 9 jacket for Glossop

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Braintree Town 1-0 Cambridge United

I'm stood at the top of a grass bank in sun-soaked skies on a Sunday morning at a school in the Gedling area of Nottingham. It's adjacent to a ground where a fence post was once launched at me by some drunken, drug-fuelled teenagers. It's a lucky ground for Sticky Palms and today is no exception.

We're down to ten men after 15 minutes. Don't worry folks, Sticky junior hasn't seen Red. He's suffering from a heavy cold and is withdrawn from the action without complaint (for a change). We're 3-2 up at the break but under the cosh. We go 3-4-2 for the second half and add a further nine goals to our tally. Sizzers bags 5, Big C grabs a hat-trick and poor old Owen misses a late penalty that would have completed a treble.

I've really enjoyed having one last season coaching my lad. It's been challenging and rewarding. We've amassed 17 points in Division One of the Notts Youth League. We've comfortably overachieved. It's time to let them go at the end of the season. That goes for my Under 16s too.

I'm still smiling on Monday morning, despite having to pack my bag for a two night stop-over in Essex. I hit the road in the afternoon with Paul Hawksbee and legendary Scottish manager and Talk Sport pundit Alan McNee for company. Destination is the seaside town of Clacton-on-Sea. I'm booked in at a hotel on the outskirts of the town.

I have a lonely meal for one in the restaurant. A ten ounce ounce gammon steak can't cheer The Groundhopper up; he's missing his faithful sidekick, Murphy Palmer the budgie. The evening TV schedule is appalling. Maxine Peak on BBC1's courtroom drama Silk is worth a look but that's about your lot. I should have gone to the cinema. No wonder Alan Partridge had a breakdown.

After a huge breakfast, I fire up the company car and go about my business. After calling in at a few local schools and carrying out some audits, I head to the town of Braintree and its Premier Inn, which is tucked away at the back of a garden centre. 'The Mule' is checking in. Tonight he'll experience first hand the trials and tribulations of being a groundhopper.

We have a couple of drinks and a meal at a tidy restaurant next door. I was going to drive but the receptionist has tipped me the wink that the roads are being re-surfaced and that it might be better to peg it to the ground.

'The Mule' ain't happy about having to stretch his legs but he has to abide by my rules. It gives him the chance to spark a couple of ciggies up on the 15 minute hike to the ground.

Braintree is a town 10 miles north west of Chelmsford and 15 miles west of Colchester. It has a population of over 40,000. It was once well known for its silk and wool trade. Famous folk to have grown up in the town or been born there include: Pineapple Dance Studios artistic director, Louis Spence and dance group The Prodigy,

Braintree Town were formed in 1898 and are nicknamed 'The Iron.' This is their third consecutive season in the Conference Premier. They are managed by former West Ham United FA Cup winner Alan Devonshire.

We follow the receptionist's directions, taking a left hand turn just after the Orange Tree pub. Cressing Road is in a less salubrious part of town. Cambridge United fans are packed in on the far terrace. They're second in the table and have a trip to Wembley to look forward to in the FA Trophy.

Poor old part-time Braintree haven't kicked a ball at the Amlin Stadium this year. They are six or seven games behind the rest. I've always liked the look of Dan Holman and Daniel Sparkes, who I saw terror Gainsborough Trinity for Histon a few seasons ago.

'The Mule' seems content. He's confused that Cambridge have more fans in the ground than Braintree. He's a big Norwich City fan, who often chats to Murphy our budgie about the Canaries on Facebook. The ground is fairly low spec for a Conference club but  has a certain charm about it. The orange-painted crash barriers brighten up the whole place.

I've already threatened 'The Mule' that'll I'll never speak to him again if the match ends up 0-0. Sticky doesn't do blankety blank. Christ on a bike, after half an hour this game has 0-0 written all over it. Braintree look the livelier. Dan Holman is on the bench as Devonshire eases him back from injury.

Daniel Sparkes is the game-changer in the second half, which is pretty much dominated by the home team. On loan Watford winger, Mensah, finds Sparkes in space, he steadies himself before drilling a low, hard shot into the bottom right hand corner of the net.

Braintree miss countless chances to put the game to bed. Cambridge are absolutely awful. I can barely remember the home 'keeper having to make a save. They are powder puff in attack. Matthew Barnes-Homer is blowing out his backside and is substituted with 15 minutes to go. I reckon me and 'The Mule' have covered more ground tonight walking to the game and back to the hotel.

Man of the Match: Daniel Sparkes

Attendance: 1016

Friday, February 28, 2014

Irchester United 2-2 Oadby Town

My 50th birthday has been and gone. We had a little shindig at ours. All the characters from the blog were in attendance apart from Trumpy Bolton, who was holed-up in Bournemouth after watching the Foxes beat the Cherries.

The Zuffler very kindly bought me a ticket to watch my favourite Geordie funk 'n soul band, Smoove and Turrell at The Donkey Pub on Welford Road in Leicester. It was another night to remember.

The following Saturday I'm up at the windswept old pit village of Rainworth near Mansfield, where the armed robber and murderer 'the Black Panther' was famously pounced upon by the afternoon shift of Rufford Colliery in 1976.

My Under 16 team have had the misfortune to draw Mansfield Town in the semi-final of the Notts FA Shield. John Ramshaw is their Head of Youth and a good friend of mine. We're hanging in there at 1-0 when I clock 'Rammers' on the touchline. We exchange plesantries. I ask him who the Stags are playing later in the day. Turns out it's the Shrimpers of Southend. Old Rammers will be able to compare false tans with Phil Brown.

It's Saturday morning and Brian Matthew is on fire on his Radio 2 Sound of the 60s Show. He plays two corkers on the bounce - 'Homeward Bound' and 'Last Train to Clarksville.' Murphy the Budgie is not impressed. The green and canary-coloured budgie is tense and moody ahead of Norwich's clash with Spurs on Sunday.

Folk have asked why Chris Hughton hasn't taken a punt on Murphy and chucked him straight in the first team on the wing. Sadly, his disciplinary record for head-butting has seen countless appearances before the Budgie FA.

Sticky junior has woken up with a hacking cough and tight chest. It means the mighty Keyworth United Under 18s will be down to the bare bones for the visit to Beiruit (Netherfield) tomorrow.

Mrs P has gone on one of those team-bonding thingies at a spa in Northamptonshire. I scour the interweb over a bowl of porridge. The Ukrainian President has done a bunk. It's like a scene from the film Mrs Doubtfire as Sticky Palms vaccs up, cleans the bathroom and washes the 'Rolls Royce.'

I'm on the road to Northamptonshire, a county that has never really captured my imagination. I've got behind a lass on a horse that has a bigger arse than Heather off Eastenders. I finally find my way onto the M1. Smoove and Turrell's 'Eccentric Audio' is blasting out the speakers.

I pull into the Stag's Head in Great Doddington for a bite to eat. I have a pint of real ale and a Brie and bacon wrap. It's an old stone-built pub, with a split-level dining area. The only downside is the droning voice of Middlesbrough pop singer James Arthur.

Irchester has a population of 5000 and lies two miles from Wellingborough and Rushden. Its best known feature is the country park, where Groundhopper makes a unscheduled pit stop for the toilet. Former Liverpool penalty king and Graham Taylor's assistant, Phil Neal, was born in the village. He won a staggering 8 League titles, 4 European Cups, 4 League Cups and a UEFA Cup.

Irchester United's Alfred Street ground is only a few miles away. There's ample parking. It's a bargain £3 on the gate. A wafer-thin issue of the Romans Review is £1. I head to the Social Club to avoid the biting wind.

I already like the joint and its community-shared vibe. The club has gaming machines, a pool table, dart board, jukebox and table skittles. A rock band called Empire will be head-banging like Murphy Palmer later this evening. It's time to venture out, though. There's a small stand behind the nearest goal with three rows of seats that are so close to the goal you would feel the full force of a shot from leading Oadby goalscorer Courtney Meade.

The ground is shared with the Cricket Club, which is roped-off. Irchester took a 9-0 gubbing off the United Counties League Division One leaders Oadby Town less than a month ago. They should be 1-0 down after 15 seconds with Meade lifting the ball the wrong side of the post.

Irchester make them pay moments later with what appears to be an own goal following a free-kick from the right. Courtney Meade has banged in 25 goals this season and has begun to attract the attention of higher League clubs. He glides along the tacky surface and has a change of pace. His body language and lack of aggression are clues to why he still plies his trade at this level. He equalises on 15 minutes with a thumping shot into the roof of the net.

The Irchester coach is cheesing me off. He hurls a torrent of abuse at the Oadby centre half and referee following claims of a kick-out by the defender. His language is foul, abusive and unnecessary. Women and children are close by. The official takes no action against him.

I go for a warm in the Clubhouse. King Billy's Nottingham Forest have thrown the towel in at Turf Moor. Notts County are 2-1 up in a relegation battle with Shrewsbury Town. Former Leicester City player Jon Stevenson nudges Oadby ahead two minutes into the second half. Oadby press forward but can't find the winner. I grab a quick chat with former Leicester City and Aston Villa centre forward Julian Joachim. He's still turning out at the age of 39.

Irchester score out of the blue at the death. As I walk out of the ground I overhear a guy in a Hertfordshire FA coat being quite rude to a punter who was only asking a polite question.

Man of the Match: Jon Stevenson

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ashton United 2-0 Rushall Olympic

I'm in a reflective mood on Friday evening as I sink a bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot, not on offer from Budgens (£7.49). On Sunday I'm having a little soiree to celebrate my forthcoming fiftieth year on planet Earth. Close friends and family will be joining me for a special 'Stella Sunday.'

My boss has invited me to watch Lincoln City v FC Halifax on Saturday. He used to play for the Shaymen. I'm hearing the Imps just launch it these days, so turn down his kind offer. The little U16 team I run on Saturday's have been rained off against Mansfield Town in the Notts FA Shield. Lord knows why they are in the competition, as most of their boys will be offered scholarships next season, while we're just a village team. I rib their Head of Youth, John Ramshaw, who is down in Devon with the First Team for the Stags' clash with Plymouth Argyle.

The weather forecast looks depressing with wind and rain sweeping in from the west. News looks encouraging from Ashton under-Lyne though, with both their Evostik teams hopeful of some play tomorrow. The Tameside Stadium and Hurst Cross have been on my radar for some time now.

It's Saturday morning and time for a birthday haircut. I can't be bothered to drive to Ruddington to get it chopped. I drop into a local barbers. I mention to the lass cutting my hair that I'm 50 next Wednesday, foolishly expecting a compliment. Not a sausage readers. Not a tip for her either.

Mrs P will be sauntering around some dreadful retail park in Thurmanston, near Leicester as I get to grips with cleaning the bathroom - it's the only job I'm any good at. Murphy is rocking on his swing to 10CC's 'Life is a Minestrone.'  All's good on the M1. I turn off at Junction 35A and by-pass the town of Stocksbridge. What a super ground they have there. I've fond memories of seeing FC United of Manchester play there a few years ago.

I head up the tight back streets in the High Peak village of Tintwistle and sling the 'Rolls Royce' in the car park of the Bulls Head. A familiar figure comes bounding up to me. It's Stanley the mongrel from four years ago. I order up a ham sandwich and some hand-cooked chips. Stanley perches his chin on my knee and slavers down my jeans. He about takes my fingers off when I offer him some ham. I wash it down with an award-winning Wren's Nest from Howard Town in Glossop.

The market town of Ashton under-Lyne is only a short drive away. It has a population of over 40,000 and sits on the River Tame in the foothills of the Pennines. Ashton United were founded in 1878 and were previously known as Hurst FC. Legendary forward Dixie Dean ended his career at Surrey Street, whilst World Cup winner  Alan Ball played here as a teenager.

Rich and famous born in Ashton under-Lyne include: Britain's first Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, Arthur Brooke, founder of the Brooke Bond Tea Company, singer-songwriter George Formby, Sir Geoff Hurst, Last of the Summer Wine actor Brian Wilde, 'Tracey Barlow' off Corrie, actor Ronald Fraser, cricketers Andrew Harris, Harry Pilling and Gary Yates and the footballers Alan Wright and Mark Robins.

It's a bit ropey for parking. I squeeze the car in the last available spot, smack opposite the Social Club. I have another pint. The dying embers of QPR v Burnley are featured on Sky. The room is full of noise and laughter. I really like the joint.

It's £7 on the turnstile and £2 for a programme. The ground is a belter, with sweeping views of the hills. I immediately recognise a Rushall Olympic player warming-up. It's none other than Dele Adebola. I once saw him go toe-to-toe with Middlesbrough's version of Jean-Claude Van Damme - Emanuel Pogatetz.

Chuffing hell it's blowing a gale. I need to find a bolt-hole to escape from it. I stand in front of a brick wall that shields me from the elements. Christ on a bike, how old is this referee? He looks about 16 years old.

There's a guy behind the far goal dressed in coaching gear bawling out instructions to the Ashton players. In eight years of groundhopping I've never witnessed this before. He's like Brian Glover in Kes.

Ashton are leading Rushall a merry dance. Their right winger is rinsing his full back. They take the lead on 18 minutes through Aaron Chalmers. An extraordinary thing happens moments later. Ahmed Obeng breezes past an Ashton defender, only to be blatantly pushed to the ground inside the area. The paperboy looks at his assistant for help, but receives no communication. The ref reluctantly blows for a free-kick. I'm giving the linesman pelters. "How can you have not seen that?" I enquire. An elderly, distinguished gentleman, suited and booted asks if it was a penalty. "Not even a free-kick, Sir," lino replies. Holy smoke.

Poor old Rushall's luck worsens on 45 minutes with Martin Pilkington finishing for the second time of asking. Jesus wept, the DJ plays two in a row from Olly Murs and Robbie Williams. I hide in the Club Shop, which is an Aladdin's Cave of it's own. I clock a guy at the tea bar pouring half a pot of pepper into a polysteyrene cup of steaming hot Bovril - it must be a northern delicacy.

There's a late start to the second period as the 22 year old referee finishes delivering Saturday's edition of the Manchester Evening News. It hoses it down for the second half as Ashton continue to pour forward. They hit the woodwork twice as Rushall throw men forward and chance their arm. I exit at bang on 90 minutes to thaw out in the Rolls Royce.

Attendance: 139

Man of the Match: The Ref (He was really good)