Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bolehall Swifts 0-2 Shifnal Town

We're both fagged out on Sunday morning following our week long jaunt in North Yorkshire. I still manage to drag my weary body off the sofa and down Daleside Road in the general direction of The Embankment (HQ). The late summer sunshine is an added bonus, as I sink three guest ales in the beer garden, whilst poring over the Non League Paper.

I'm working from home this week. It's not as glamorous as it sounds. It does allow me to keep tabs on the exciting end to a three horse race for cricket's County Championship. Kevin Howells and Simon Mann on Five Live Sports Extra make it feel as if the game is being played in your front room.

I tick a new ground off on Wednesday evening, when taking in Bilborough Town v Unity at the Harvey Hadden Sports Village. It's an interesting venue with grass banks and steep views - you need a pair of binoculars to watch the game across the eight lane athletics track. The match is woeful, but at least I get the chance to catch up with Unity head honcho Morris Samuels, MBE and legendary Nottinghamshire groundhopper, Malc Storer - better known as the 'Bearded Wonder.' League leaders Bilborough ground out a 1-0 victory.

It's Thursday evening and don't ask me why, but I'm eating an 'All Day Breakfast' in The Roebuck, a Wetherspoons establishment on St James's Street in Nottingham city centre. I've signed up to a mindfulness and meditation evening at Cafe Sobar on Friar Lane - don't worry folks I'm not having a nervous breakdown, but have had a lot of change in my life over the past year or so. I have a pint of Dutch courage (Punk IPA) before the tree-hugging session.

The evening was a success. I manage to meditate for half an hour at Friday tea-time, before strolling down the banks of the Trent in glorious late afternoon sunshine, past The City Ground, onto Trent Bridge, before quaffing a couple of ales in the 'World Renowned' (lol) .. Trent Bridge Inn. The exciting finale of the County Championship is too much for me. Middlesex's Toby Roland-Jones sensationally takes a hat-trick to clinch the title for his team.  I'm asleep for nine bells following a couple of glasses of Punk IPA and a glass or two of Red.

I'm as fresh as a daisy on Saturday morning. Murphy is hanging upside down on his swing, whistling away to 'I'm a Man' by the Spencer Davis Group - listen to the Smoove remix on You Tube, it's a belter. Murphy and Radio 2 DJ Brian Matthew have had a spat, as Murph forgot to send Uncle Brian a card for his 88th birthday last week.

I take a wander across the road, passing Nottingham Racecourse on my left. A drunken tramp emerges from the bushes swigging from a strong can of lager, before hurling his empty can into a hedgerow and disappearing down a footpath. I'm mightily relieved to be honest, as the chap looked a bit of a menace. I turn off onto a public bridleway. Joggers appear from out of a clearing in the woods. I'm intrigued as to why there are so many of them. Turns out it's a weekly 5km Park Run. I get gassing to one of the organisers and promise to sign up for next week, despite my nagging calf strain.

Funds are tight after our lavish lifestyle in Yorkshire last week. We spent a King's ransom oop north, so have no choice but to stay in the Midlands for the next few weeks. Ms Moon has been dispatched to Aldi to buy some bread and jam rations. I'm playing on Twitter and talking to a mardy Murphy, who is pecking away at some hard skin on the bottom of my foot - he's a better chiropodist than Neil Warnock. We're both astounded to see that Southampton fan and R&B, Garage 'singer' Craig David has 353,000 followers on the social network - Jesus wept, what is the World coming to.

It's twenty years to the day since Lincoln City beat Man City 1-0 at Maine Rd in the second leg of the League Cup, to win the tie 5-1 overall. I missed the 4-1 thumping we dished out at Sincil Bank due to it being my wedding anniversary - it was just after Steve Coppell's 33 day stay as manager.

There's just time for a 'bread and jam sandwich' and packet of crisps before making the short journey to Tamworth. Leicester City are taking a thumping at Old Trafford. Even Bronx-born DJ Paul Gambaccini is getting in on the act as he plays 'Last Waltz With You' by Leicester singer Engelbert Humperdinck (who was actually born in Madras).

There's quite a heavy police presence in Tamworth. I presume it's because of the visit of FC United of Manchester to Tamworth FC's Lamb Ground. Bolehall Swifts play literally around the corner. Tamworth is a large market town in Staffordshire with a population of over 75,000. Notable people born or brought up in the town include Teardrop Explodes frontman Julian Cope and Leicester City winger Marc Albrighton - one of the greatest Bosman transfers in Premiership history.

There's a nice feel about the place at Swifts' Rene Road ground. They were founded in 1953 and their floodlights were officially opened a few years ago by Stoke City manager Mark 'Sparky' Hughes. We're greeted by club secretary Mark Brooks, who gives us a potted history of the club and also very kindly donates £10 to the Parkinson's Disease Charity that we're raising money for. Today is an FA Vase tie with £800 prize money up for grabs.

I love the ground with it's rickety old stands, sloping pitch and community feel. We chance upon an FA match observer (mentor). I mention that it's great to see two lady assistant referees. He's a lovely chap who tips us the wink on a few cool grounds to visit in the Coventry area. We leave him be, as he frantically places a few last minute bets before the 3pm kick off.

We bump into a Shifnal supporter as the teams kick off, he says they are a decent passing team. I might need to arouse this guy with some smelling salts at half-time after watching his team lump the ball forward for the entire first half. The Swifts are more pleasing on the eye and have the game's stand out player, a left-footed lad, who can play on either wing.

Ms Moon is wearing a black leather jacket, I ask her if she ever went out with Arthur Fonzarelli ? She gets the hump and changes her set at the break, preferring a blue jacket purchased from TK Maxx. We splash out on a raffle ticket, but already clock that the prize is a bottle of Echo Falls, which I wouldn't fancy stripping paint with. The guy selling tickets says £1 a strip or £2 for him to strip - thankfully the prize is claimed at half-time.

The visitors must have had an almighty bollocking as they play with far more purpose in the second half. Poor old 'Tickle' up top, couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo. One of his shots clears the bar by a country mile before hitting the window of an old people's home awakening the residents from a Saturday afternoon snooze.

Shifnal have a centre forward as tall as 'High Tower' from Police Academy. His feet barely leave the ground when there's a chance of a header. Remarkably he scores with his bonce after a faux pas by the home 'keeper, who has been outstanding throughout. Even the industrious Tickle gets in on the act, putting the game beyond doubt, after rounding the 'keeper and rolling the ball into an empty net.

Attendance: 54

Man of the Match: Kyle Bache (Swifts' 'keeper)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Northallerton Town 0-0 Stockton Town

The flat we're staying at in Whitby is on the West Cliff. It looks out onto the beach and North Sea. Today, Wednesday, it's shrouded in mist - an absolute pea-souper of a fog. I check the BBC weather app for the inland market town of Beverley. The forecast is for clear blue skies and wall to wall sunshine.

We toast some slices of fruit loaf and smother them in butter, before heading over to East Riding of Yorkshire. Sat Nav takes us on a cross country route through small towns such as Driffield, before pitching up in the picturesque town of Beverley. There's 'Bob Hope' of a parking spot in the Market Square, so Ms Moon sticks the Audi in a Tesco car park.

I place a couple of bets at Beverley races on the first and last race at a local Coral bookies. We sit on benches in the Square, eating fresh cobs purchased from Thomas The Baker on Toll Gavel. The racecourse is only a five minute drive away. It's £14 each on the gate. I snap up a racecard, we may need some help, as the form book is thrown out the window. A majority of the races are for two and three year olds.

I used to enjoy a flutter in my teens - Cheltenham and York were my usual haunts. I've been way off the pace for years. My advice to Ms Moon is to stick a pin in the newspaper. It's advice I should have taken myself, as a 66/1 winner sees off an odds on favourite in the opening race.

I spend the entire afternoon sprawled out on the grass, plastered in Factor 50 suncream. Ms Moon places more bets than Paul Merson. She brings the bacon home with a 66/1 third place and a 25/1 second place. Her namesake, Savannah Moon, nicks second place by a short head, at 28/1, to ensure a decent return on our bets. We celebrate with a fish stew at the Magpie Cafe in Whitby. I experience a bigger sneezing fit than Trumpy Bolton, when he mixes real ale with cider - I put it down to a reaction from the grass.

The mist returns on Thursday, ruining a whistle-stop tour of Robin Hood's Bay and Runswick Bay. We pack up on Friday and head across the North Yorkshire Moors. We break for lunch at Helmsley in Ryedale. Ms Moon spits her dummy as the waitress at the Feathers Hotel mucks up her order.

We arrive at the Forresters Arms in Kilburn for the night, on the final leg of our tour. I spot a two mile circular walk in a welcoming pack in our room. As we walk out the village we can see the cut out figure of the White Horse in the hillside.

I sink three pints of 'Striding the Riding' from the Helmsley Brewing Company. The evening meal is spot on. There are some Trivial Pursuit cards on each table. Ms Moon loves a competitive quiz. A huge fry-up is wolfed down in the morning. Sausage, eggs and bacon are locally sourced.

First port of call is the horse-racing market town of Thirsk. Blue plaques are positioned throughout the town. Sticky hasn't done his homework, so is aghast to see that he didn't realise Thomas Lord, the founder of Lord's cricket ground, was born here.

I need to chalk a pub off in Bedale. Ms Moon has a wander - bet her cigarette puffer is bust again. I have a quick pint of Theakston's Lightfoot. I climb the stairs to the loo and chance upon a poor chap stranded and clinging onto the end of the stair rail. I help him to the toilets. Bless him, he had a stroke 15 years ago and is not too mobile.

I get gassing to the guy and his wife in the bar. It transpires that his sons have bought him a surprise birthday present. Tomorrow they'll be visiting a raceyard in the area that's owned by one of the best trainers in the country.

We arrive at the Calvert Stadium in good time. Gambacinni on Radio 2 is playing 'Sons and Daughters by Level 42 - to be honest, when you've heard one of their tracks, you've heard them all. Northallerton is a market town in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, with a population of 15,000. It has been the County town of North Riding of Yorkshire since 1974. Richmond Foods' HQ is in nearby Leeming Bar. They are Europe's third largest ice cream manufacturer. They make Fab and Rowntree's Fruit Pastilles ice lollies.

Hull City captain, and former Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur defender, Michael Dawson, was born in the town. All three Dawson brothers were on Forest's books at one time. Dawson initially was a centre forward, but was quickly converted to a centre half under Paul Hart's guidance. We stopped in an hotel in the Algarve over the summer, the whole Hull City squad rocked up - they were as good as gold.

Northallerton Town FC were founded  in 1895 and are the most southern-based team in the Northern League. It's £6 on the gate and £1 for a chunky programme. We dive into a plush clubhouse and shout up chilli, chips and cheese. I notice that Eric Bristow is here for a Q&A and game of darts on November 15th.

The DJ is pumping out Utah Saints, but blots his copybook with Sam Smith and Robbie Williams. We sit on the concrete steps behind the furthest goal, as the ground is three-sided, and there is no access to the dugouts on the far side of the ground.

I don't know what it is, but I've struggled for goals at this level. The visitors are technically better and work harder, but I can't for the life of me see where a goal will come from. The first ten minutes resembles a game of head tennis. I get a touch of the match ball on 14 minutes - it's the highlight of the first half. Ms Moon dashes down the terrace to chase a stray shot down -  who said she was allowed to play ?

The second half isn't much better. Neither 'keeper has chuff all to do, it's got 0-0 written all over it. The referee's blast of the whistle puts us all out of our misery, nice day out, but fairly average game.

Man of the Match: 2 Jacket for Norton

Attendance: 108

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Whitby Town 2-1 Ilkeston FC

We head over to North Yorkshire from Lancashire on Sunday morning. It's a glorious day as we arrive on the West Cliff in Whitby. We bask in the afternoon sunshine on the veranda of the Abbey Wharf which looks over the estuary.

Monday is spent walking up to Sandsend, before returning to Whitby, where we make our debut at the Humble Pie and Mash Shop, on Church Street. Dinner is washed down with a couple of pints of Silver King from the Ossett Brewery stable at the Station Inn. As I retire for bed, news is filling my twitter timeline of the abandonment of a Non League cup tie between Brighouse Town and Shaw Lane. A player has collapsed and news of his condition is unknown. It preys on my mind as I fall to sleep.

I toss and turn for most of the night. I switch my phone on first thing in the morning, the news is devastating. Daniel Wilkinson tragically passed away, he was only 26 years old. Daniel was a former student at Loughborough University, who had his whole life ahead of him. It's so, so desperately sad.

I'm fairly quiet on the trip to Scarborough. My mood darkens even further when Ken Bruce spins Michael Buble's new single. I'm hoping the baking sunshine and clear blue skies will cheer me up. We park in the North Bay, close to Peasholm Park. Those robbing bastards at Scarborough Council fleece us for £6 - no wonder folk think twice about parking illegally.

We amble past some plush new apartments that they've stuck up on the seafront. Dogs are bounding in the sand, retrieving balls launched from their owner's automatic ball throwers. The town is stacked out with tourists, despite the schools returning.

Bloody hell, Ms Moon's electronic ciggy thingy is kaput again. It's had more breakdowns than her flipping Audi. She tootles off up to the Vape Shop to have the coil repaired, whilst I have a mosey around.

I stare up at the castle, perched high up on the hill. I made 'The Auctioneer' traipse up there on a sweltering hot day a few years ago, we were both gasping for air when we finally reached the summit. I notice that Billy Pearce is at the fag end of a six month season at the Scarborough Spa. It's ironically called a 'Laughter Show - it'll be a relief to us all, after the final show, that we can get back to laughing again! I see a huge puff of smoke billowing in the air up the High Street. Ms Moon's electric fag is fully functional again - now that does bring a smile back to my face.

We have luncheon at a French cafe before Ms Moon has a solo run up the South Cliff funicular railway. There's just time to pop my head into Scarborough Cricket Club on North Marine Road, where Yorkshire and Notts 2nds are playing, before the short journey back to Whitby.

I leave Ms Moon to watch the latest gripping episode of Emmerdale Farm. I wander up the West Cliff before taking a left turn along Upgang Lane. Mist is rolling in from the North Sea, a pea-souper of a fog is forecast for tomorrow. I may have seriously under-clubbed on the clothes front, as I've still got my shorts on.

Whitby is a seaside town in North Yorkshire with a population of just under 15,000. It is situated on the east coast at the mouth of the river Esk. The Irish author Bram Stoker began visiting the town in 1890 and it is believed that this was behind the inspiration for him to write his Dracula novels.

On 30th September 1914 the hospital ship Rohilla was sunk after hitting rocks at Saltwick Bay. Of the 229 people on board, 85 lost their lives. Most of them are buried in the churchyard at Whitby. On the West Cliff there is a statue of James Cook, who served his apprenticeship in the town.

Notable folk from the area include: Downton Abbey maid and voice of Wendy from Bob the Builder, Joanne Froggatt, Yorkshire and England cricketer Adam Lyth and former Southampton and WBA forward David Mills, who became Britain's first £500,000 player. His career was cut short by a serious car accident, which claimed the life of his father. He is now Head Scout at Leicester City and responsible for many of the signings that helped clinch the Premiership title.

Whitby Town FC play at the Turnbull Ground on Upgang Lane. They were formed in 1892 and play in the Northern Premier League. The Whitby Gazette mentioned that they won an FA Cup tie last week for the first time in four years. They are currently on an eight match unbeaten run.

The groundsman of the adjacent Whitby Cricket Club is cutting the outfield with his mower and as pay £10 on the gate and £2 for the official matchday magazine. I clock Big D chin-wagging to Ilkeston chairman Nigel Harrop. Dick and I go back a long way. His son, Ross, is in the nets tonight for Ilson, having recently been released from Nottingham Forest, after 7 years at the club.

The Turnbull Ground is a little belter. There is a huge main stand which gives the supporter a panoramic view, with further covering on the far side. The playing surface is immaculate, you could play Crown Green bowls on it. The DJ means business as he pumps up the locals and small gathering of loyal Ilson fans with 'Firestarter' by The Prodigy.

Both teams look incredibly young as they walk out to the centre circle. Big D remarks that Ilson's oldest player is only 23 years of age. There is an incredibly moving one minute's silence in memory of Daniel Wilkinson and recently passed Whitby supporter.

The Seasiders are all over the visitors like a rash, as Ilson try to come to terms with rather disjointed formation. Young Ross, in the nets, commands his area and comes for everything. He is courageous and fearless. As Dad says, he'll even resort to a Jackie Chan unconventional martial art kick if need be. He's already made a couple of smart blocks before the inevitable and well deserved goal is scored for Whitby by Dale Hopson on his birthday.

Ilkeston are awarded a free kick shortly after. Left back Rory Coleman lines up a shot like a rugby player does for a conversion. Big D pipes up that he hasn't enough power in his technique to score from this distance, just as the ball sails over the wall, evading the outstretched hand of a floundering Whitby Town keeper, before hitting the top corner of the net. "You can quote me on that one", chuckles Big D, as an Ilson fan greets the goal by ringing his bell.

Ilson need half-time desperately to regroup, it can't come quick enough as the ball is not sticking up top. One cross too many comes in from the left hand side and is superbly executed by Matthew Tymon, ghosting in from the right wing. It's all too much for the Seasiders PA man who at half time plays 'Diamond Lights' by Hoddle and Waddle, before being carted off to the Funny Farm.

Whitby continue to waste chances in front of goal. They find young Durrant at the top of his game. The match is played in a wonderful spirit and refereed superbly by Mr Whatling from Driffield. Ilson forward Anthony Dwyer, who has had spells at Notts County and Mansfield Town pings a shot from just outside the area, only to see Shane Bland tip his effort onto the crossbar.

The full time whistle is blown, ending a very entertaining game. I wish Big D a safe journey home across the Yorkshire Moors and make the ten minute walk back to the warmth of our holiday flat. I can't half pick em.

Attendance: 242

Man of the Match: Ross Durrant

Monday, September 12, 2016

AFC Darwen 1-2 Pickering Town

I'm still buzzing from my day out with Trumpy Bolton in Evesham, where we saw a pulsating FA Cup tie, as Ms Moon and I take a wander around Attenborough Nature Reserve. We sit on a wooden bench watching what will probably be the final Sunday League cricket fixture of the season. Lunch is taken at the Victoria Hotel in Beeston, before ticking-off the White Lion in Bramcote.

I wile away a Tuesday evening with The Taxman on the banks of the river Trent, as we watch Dunkirk thump Radcliffe Olympic 5-1. The rest of the week is spent holed-up in the leafy suburb of Holmes Chapel, in Cheshire, at a sales conference. I was hoping to catch Roy Keane walking his dog Trigger, in nearby Hale, but failed, miserably, to leave the hotel grounds during my short stay.

I down tools at lunchtime on Friday, that's me done for the week. Murphy the budgie has been booked in for a week's respite at Auntie Val's hotel in Colwick. I am in bits and so is Murphy. I pack his toys, towel and radio. To be honest Murphy is as thick as two short planks. Auntie Val is trying to educate him by tuning into Radio 4 - I haven't the heart to tell her she's wasting her time with old bird brain.

I nip into Wisdom's Barbers on Mansfield Road, where my Kurdistan friend gives me a short back 'n sides. I tick off the Hop Merchant on Upper Parliament St - it's the artist formerly know as the Turf Tavern. I down a pint of Farmers Blonde from the Bradfield Brewery. I have a spot of tea with my old pal Billy Snooks in The Embankment just off Trent Bridge.

I toss and turn on Friday night - I'm worried sick about Murphy and also excited about our road-trip to Lancashire and North Yorkshire. Auntie Val texts me in the morning to say Murphy's settling in nicely and has been listening to George Gershwin - they'll be none of that tosh when he's back in his yard.

There's a pit-stop at Costa Coffee - Ms Moon tends to see the red mist without a sufficient caffeine intake - before shooting up the A50 and onto the M6. The motorway is a breeze today. We stop for more coffee at Sandbach Services. A large group of suited and booted racegoers are heading up to Haydock Park. I get gassing to a Worcester City fan who is on a supporters' coach to Bradford Park Avenue. We're parked up at the back of Darwen Youth Centre at midday on the nose. We stroll past a memorial garden dedicated to 16 year old Sky Nicol, who tragically died of a drugs overdose in March 2016.

Darwen is a market town in Lancashire with a population of 30,000. It was once the centre for textile-manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution. In 1931 Mahatma Gandhi visited the town to see the effects of India's boycott of cotton goods. Soon after, this led to the decline of the cotton trade in Lancashire. Darwen is also the home to Crown Paints, one of the country's most successful paint manufacturers. Other notes of interest include The Beatles playing the Co-operative Hall in January 1963 and the TV series Hetty Wainthropp Investigates being fimed in the town.

Darwen FC were founded in 1870 and were the world's first football club to pay players professionally. They were a Football League member from 1891-1899. Their 134 year old history ceased to exist in 2009 when they were wound up in the High Court. The golfer Dick Burton was born in Darwen. He won the British Open in 1939 and held the Claret Jug until 1946, due to the competition being suspended because of the Second World War.

British pub aficionado, Trumpy Bolton, has tipped us the wink on the Old Chapel in the town centre. Wetherspoons have converted this old Methodist church. There is a spectacular, open staircase and balcony seating. Ms Moon has butternut squash soup and we both have a cheese 'n ham toastie. The pint of Shipyard pale ale is a tad flat though.

We have a wander around the town. I notice a pub called The British Queen that is decorated with a Union Jack, that flutters in the breeze. Ms Moon is running low on vapour liquid for her electric ciggie thingy. She's bought the Daddy of vapour, which costs more than 200 Gold Leaf. A search in Darwen for some more proves fruitless.

We already clocked the ground on the way in. It still doesn't stop us managing to circumnavigate our way around the whole town, before finally pulling into Anchor Road, the home of AFC Darwen. The town's main employer, Crown Paints, is situated across the road.

Coldplay are on the ground's PA, as I part with £11.50 on the gate which gets the two of us in with a programme, that is of the highest standard - congratulations to The Digest for his many contributions. There's an over-powering smell of deep heat coming from the changing room area.

Most folk are congregated on the patio area outside the bar. We wander over to the far side of the ground, opposite the main stand, positioning ourselves adjacent to the away dugout. Darwen see an early effort turned around the post by the Pickering 'keeper after just 7 seconds. Three minutes later the visitors take the lead through Robert Chipps.

The Pickering manager is dressed in a shirt, tie and v-necked jumper - he looks like he's about to set off to a Sunday morning service at church. His assistant is 40 year old Denny Ingram, who made 228 appearances for Hartlepool United. There's not much doing at half-time. I get chatting to the Dad of a Pickering player who is from Driffield, near Hull. I can't understand a bloody word he says. He could be talking in Swahili for all I know. Murphy will be cross again, he's missed 'Cake By The Ocean' on the Darwen PA system.

The Pikes look to have killed Darwen off with a fantastic goal from Cripps, who plays a give and go before smashing his shot into the roof of the net. Thirty seconds later a visiting player is caught dithering and dilly-dallying on the ball, they're punished by an alert Nick Hepple.

The referee is dishing out cards quicker than Postman Pat. The Darwen 10 jacket is shown two yellows. The official's patience is being tested as Pickering slow the game down at dead-ball situations. Poor old Sticky is running around like a blue-arsed fly and is lathered in sweat as he retrieves scuffed clearances from the undergrowth - he needn't bother booking me for slowing play down..

Denny Ingram strips off his shirt in front of a startled Ms Moon. He's looking rather hench and is proper tattooed up. A gooey-eyed Ms Moon begins to blush as Denny makes eye contact. I bet the bloke has never had a real ale in his life. He does manage to close the game down as Pickering go through to the next round of the FA Vase.

We're happy as Larry as we drive to the village of Laneshawbridge, in the Borough of Pendle, where we check into our bed and breakfast, before drinks and a meal at the delightful Emmott Arms.

Man of the Match: Auntie Val

Attendance: 174

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Evesham United 2-2 Barwell

It's Saturday tea-time and we're guzzling alcoholic beverages in the courtyard of the Old George Inn in a sun-soaked Newcastle city centre. There's a huge cheer, bedlam breaks out, as the Magpies hammer home the final nail in Brighton Hove Albion's coffin. The Seagulls fans will have chuff all to cheer about on their 350 mile, miserable trip home.

We partake in more scoops at the Crown Posada. It's a snug Victorian pub, that has an old record player belting out hits from the 60s, on a 33 RPM long playing record. Sticky 'n Murphy's favourite funk 'n soul band, Smoove and Turrell, have named their latest album after the pub. Sunday is spent down the Quayside, frequenting a few old school classic boozers. The Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour is money well spent. The architecture in the city is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

We're back in Nottingham for Monday lunchtime. I type a few notes up from the Whitley Bay game before dashing out the door and heading up Radford Road, in inner-city Nottingham, for an East Midlands Counties League clash between Radford FC and Kimberley MW. I usually stick the car in Asda car park for a two hour slot, but I clock Inspector Blakey  patrolling the joint, taking down car registrations details in his dog-eared notebook. I squeeze the 'Rolls Royce' into a tight spot on Selhurst Street. I kop for some flak from Big Glenn Russell, the Pheasants manager. He threatens to have me chucked out if they lose again  .... I'm a bit of a Jonah. They lose 4-3 in comfortably the best game of the season. See you next year, Glenn.

Tuesday and Wednesday are spent in the south east of England at Gravesend and Horsham. It's a relief to return home after a ghastly two days on the M25 and M23, although it was a pleasure to hear Alex Hales break England's highest One Day record individual score, smashing Pakistan for 171 runs. It's a slap in the face to all his critics.

Skies are clearing and the sun is shining as I slog it up Daleside Rd, before taking a left hand turn, passing the Cattle Market and up Meadow Lane towards Notts County's ground. The Codheads, from Grimsby, are in town tomorrow, with their Harry Haddock inflatables. It should boost the flagging attendances at Mr and Mrs Trew's downtrodden club. I won't step foot in the place until the fools have sold up.

I love the back garden at Castle Rock's Embankment pub. It's situated on the edge of the Meadows estate. Slums were demolished here in the 1970s and replaced with an ugly, architectural disaster. The folk are proper though and pack out this popular, patioed beer garden. I slurp a couple of strong craft ales from the Three Blind Mice brewery in Ely, Cambridgeshire, before returning to Colwick and giving Ms Moon a good gubbing at Pointless.

I enjoy a lie-in on Saturday morning. There's literally time for a bowl of porridge and cup of strong coffee before heading over to the village of Keyworth, to pick up the legend Trumpy Bolton. Murphy the budgie will be chuffed to bits that Brian Matthew is back on song on Radio 2 this morning, after his disappointing set last week - he'll be whistling his wee head off to 'Behind the Painted Smile' by The Isley Brothers.

I caught Murphy furiously pecking away at my phone the other day. His beak was like a pneumatic drill. I thought he was going to shatter the glass. It was only when I glanced at the phone, did I realise that Murph had spotted a tweet saying that Olly Murs  is 'singing' at the Nottingham Arena next March. I can see my feathered friend flying up there on the night of the gig and pecking all the lighting cables to plunge the place into darkness - Murs and Murph have previous.

I arrive at 'Trumpy Towers' a tad early. The Legend sticks his head out of the bathroom window - "I'll be two minutes chap" - as he unscrews the top off his bottle of Old Spice, before dabbing it on the front and back of his neck. He's already polished off a bottle of Hopping Hare and some cheese on toast for breakfast.

He's disgusted to see my 'man bag' in the footwell of the passenger seat. He slings it into the back of the car. We both start singing 'Getting Away With It' by Electronic as it blasts out of the car radio. Trumpy is comedy gold. I often bring a spare pair of batteries for my dictaphone, as the anecdotes are endless. I hear tales of wild weekends in Glasgow watching Leicester City versus Celtic in some God awful tournament. Mr and Mrs Bolton have just returned from a week in the west of Scotland and a few nights in the Scottish Borders. He confesses to have ticked-off 90 new pubs - I nearly crash the car.

Bolton is in a jovial mood having recently won Employee of the Month. He swigs away at a litre bottle of cider stored in a Slimming World carrier bag, that looks like a Witches Brew of out of date scrumpy.

We pull into the Fish and Anchor dining restaurant, in Offenham, which is set in a beautiful riverside location. Trumpy downs a pint of UBU Purity, as we get chatting to the landlord, who's originally from Warrington. A large group of Chinese people rock up on a boat and order up a big buffet. It's like a scene from Father Ted.

Next stop is the Ivy Inn in North Littleton. It was only two weeks ago that I was here with Rugby Town assistant manager John Ramshaw, on a spying mission. The fish 'n chips are to die for, as we both enjoy a pint of Mosaic pale ale from the Adnams Brewery. Again, the landlord is charming. He was once the coach for Stourbridge FC youth team. He tips Trumpy the wink on the Bull and Bladder in Brierley Hill, in Birmingham.

Evesham is a market town in Worcestershire with a population just shy of 25,000. It is situated on a horse shoe shaped peninsula and is renound for its market gardening. Notable people born in the town include ex Liverpool striker John Aldridge, whose unsporting act of ruffling Brian Laws's hair after he had scored an own goal in the FA Cup semi final of 1989 at Old Trafford after the Hillsborough Disaster, sticks in one's craw. Co-founder of Twycross Zoo, Molly Badham, the comedian Alistair McGowan and former soldier and Portsmouth striker Guy Whittingham, who was nicknamed 'Corporal Punishment.' It is also claimed that the American singer P J Proby lives on the outskirts of the town.

We roll into the car park of the Spiers and Hartwell Jubilee Stadium an hour before kick off. It's £9 on the gate and £2 for the programme. Everybody seems really friendly. Trumpy thinks that all his birthdays have come at once when he hears that Brew XI ale is on at £2 a pint. We have a go on the football card. Trumpy picks Leicester City, bless him.

Trumpy gets a tap on the shoulder, it's his mate 'Rooky' from Hinckley. We stand on the far side, as Barwell win the toss and choose to kick into the howling wind. "It'll be a game of two halves", remarks 'Rooky', "or two pints" says a razor-sharp Bolton. Barwell are nicknamed the Canaries. I wonder if Murphy the budgie will be perched on a crash barrier in the away end ?

Evesham boss the first half an hour, with the wind at their backs. Barwell's young 'keeper has safe handling and kicks solidly into the wind. Barwell take the lead with their first serious attack. Their winger is clipped, leaving much sought after midfielder, Brad Hickey, to successfully convert the spot kick. It's 2-0 on the stroke of half-time. Hickey plays in Owen Story, who rounds the keeper' ('Brad Guzan') as Trumpy has nicknamed him, before rolling the ball into an empty net.

Trumpy is lining them up in the Bar, panicking that they'll pull the plug on the 'Special Offer' anytime now. I sit with 'Rooky' in the Main Stand as Barwell choose to sit on their 2-0 lead. The players become tetchy, as the tackles fly in. I've the Darby and Joan Club sat behind me. 'Dot Cotton' calls a Barwell player a 'Dirty Bastard' time and time again. I'm crying with laughter.

Evesham are never say die, as they throw the kitchen sink at the visitors. Barwell score an own goal, as two visiting WAGS obscure my view. Barwell's Sandhu is dismissed for a deliberate handball and a Fosbury Flop. Evesham pile on the pressure, with wave after wave of attack. They play a beautiful game of football. The deserved equaliser arrives five minutes from time as another cross is turned in. Barwell hang on the ropes after being peppered with shot after shot in the dying embers of the game.

Man of the Match: Trumpy Bolton (of course)

Attendance:  237

Monday, August 29, 2016

Whitley Bay 2-2 North Shields

What a wretched day we had up in Ramsbottom on Saturday. The Audi conked out half a mile from the pub. John the Glaswegian breakdown recovery driver saved the day, as we dropped off the heap of scrap at Frank Butcher's Car Lot in Alfreton. Oh well, at least we've got a courtesy car.

It's Sunday morning and Ms Moon is off to Morrisons for a spot of shopping. I hear her turn the car over and over again. Even the courtesy car won't fire up. Jesus wept, what a bloody weekend we're having. My car's blocked in, we can't move Ms Moon's piece of junk because of parked cars on the street. I cope with the situation in my usual style, by retiring to the Starting Gate in Colwick for a pint of real ale.

I continue my walk down the Colwick Loop Road before waltzing into Morrisons on Netherfield Retail Park. I exit 15 minutes later with two full bags of shopping, before the long 3 mile slog home. It's a shoe-in that'll be requesting a foot massage later in the day. I still knocked a blog up from Ramsbottom, despite not seeing a ball kicked, we'll return there before Christmas.

Tuesday evening is spent in the charming village of Radcliffe-on-Trent, at Wharf Lane, as Radcliffe Olympic take on Sticky's favourites, Radford FC in the East Midlands Counties League. It's a sweltering evening, I'm covered in thunder flies and have been bitten to death. Radford aren't at the races and get the thumping they deserve. Big Glenn Russell, the Radford manager, is having a dicky fit on the far side of the ground. He spends most of the night picking up his baseball cap that he's flung to the ground.

Murphy the budgie and I are listening to Ken Bruce's Love Song spot on Radio 2. We both break down in tears when he plays 'Miss You Nights' by Cliff Richard - the song's rubbish, but it reminds us of our best friend, Finley the rabbit, who passed away earlier in the year. He was famous for his crap Non League score predictions - everybody loved Finley. Murphy is soon popping his head out of the cage and sticking his beak into the off button, when Ken Bruce asks a contestant to name three Craig David 'songs' on the 'three in ten slot' on Pop Master.

We tune into Five Live Sports Extra. A vital County Championship game between Yorkshire and Notts is being played at Scarborough's picturesque North Marine Road cricket ground. The commentator, Kevin Howells, confesses to having watched the British period medical drama The Royal on ITV, that was set in the town. I tweet him to say it wasn't a patch on Heartbeat - he has a chuckle as he reads it out live on air.

We're up and at 'em by 7am on Saturday. There's an emergency pit stop at Costa Coffee on Daleside Road, as Ms Moon can be a nasty so and so without a caffeine intake. We jump on the A1 near Newark, there's not much traffic about. Brian Matthew is having a nightmare on his Radio 2 60s show. Murphy the budgie won't be giving two hoots though, as he's staying at his Auntie Val's for the weekend, so will be listening to Classic FM.

We park up at the ice rink in Whitley Bay. The skies are sun-kissed and the air still. A guy from ZZ Top is fishing on the sea front. He's ledgering around 100 metres out to sea and is hopeful of landing some cod and pollock. I chance my arm on the darts at the fairground. I just need to score over 10, in different beds, with each dart, to win £10. Sticky P is on flames but doesn't read the small print properly - doubles and trebles don't count. I 'win' a cuddly toy. I'm still sulking as we wolf down some haddock 'n chips on picnic benches outside the Whitley Whaler chippie. Lunch is washed down with a pint of 'Ring of Fire' at the King George. We walk past the The Rex Hotel and The Deep nightclub, The Rex ceased trading six months ago. The Deep remains open, but for how long ? You couldn't move for folk when I was last here 25 years ago.

Whitley Bay is a seaside town in Tyne and Wear with a population of 10,000. Notable people from the area include: Captain Gladstone Adams, the inventor of the windscreen wiper, former Aston Villa, Leicester and Blackburn forward Graham Fenton (North Shields manager) and the screenwriter Ian La Frenais who co-wrote Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads and Porridge.

Thursday night used to be the big night out in the resort, folk used to flock in from North Shields and South Shields for hen parties and stag nights. I was privy to one of these nights in 1991. We were still supping ale on the pavement outside the Royal Hotel at 5am, spilling out into the road like they do in Malia. Whitley Bay FC were founded in 1897 and are nicknamed the Seahorses. They have won the FA Vase on four occasions - the only team to do so.

The Phoenix Tap looks a decent pub and it's not far from the ground. A pint of Aurora is cheap as chips at £2.30. We stroll up to the Hillheads Park. It's £6 on the gate and £1.50 for an information-packed programme. The ground is a belter, with two large stands, a club shop and tea huts on both sides of the ground. Local rivals North Shields are today's visitors.

The standard of football is extremely high, as good as I've witnessed at this level. I hear the famous 'North East Roar' that I read about in Harry Pearson's A Far Corner - A Mazy Dribble Through North East Football - a book that influenced my love-in with Non League football.

North Shields look particularly slick going forward. Slightly against the run of play the Seahorses take the lead with Adam Shanks sweeping home a cross from the right hand side. There is a round of applause on 26 minutes for North Shields toddler Frankie Sherwood, who is bravely battling cancer for the second time in his short life. A bucket collection raises £669.10.

The Whitley Bay DJ is having a 'mare, I'd expected to hear Bryan Ferry, Sting or heaven forbid Cheryl Cole and Jimmy Nail, instead it's some woeful R'n B whack. Ms Moon says he sounds like Dennis off Auf Wiedersehen Pet. I've stiffened up since our 6 mile hike around the resort. I drag my weary body to the loo, passing the Whitley Bay WAGS. I feel like putting my feet up in the glorious main stand and having forty winks.

North Shields awaken and roll their sleeves up. They score two quick goals from the head of substitute Ryan Carr in similar fashion.

The Seahorses throw on big unit, Ross Wilkinson. His legs might of gone, but he is a bloody nuisance. North Shields don't know whether to stick or twist. Whitley Bay nick a deserved equaliser with a few minutes remaining to share the spoils.

Attendance: 612

Man of the Match: Marc Lancaster (North Shields 3 Jacket)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ramsbottom United v Sheffield FC

It's Friday evening and I'm heading over south of the river towards the village of Keyworth. The Green Army have a Central Midlands League game at home against Holbrook St Michaels. 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' (Sticky jnr) is back in his yard after a week of shifting crates of Super Bock and smoking himself to death on Mayfair tabs in the Algarve. The youngster bumped into Alan Shearer in some swanky bar.  He takes his seat on the bench. Jack's one of them lads that you have to put your arm around and tell him he's good. I know he's taking his 'ball seriously this year, when he doesn't spark up a crafty fag at half-time.

Keyworth play a beautiful game and are two to the good, when on the hour, junior is let off his leash. The boot and run, neck-breaking football of the last few seasons is now a distant memory. Keyworth manager, Steve Pembleton, knows his onions. There's a few flicks and tricks from the crowd-favourite, but in the main he keeps his game simple. The match is in the dying embers when 'Georgie' picks up a loose ball 25 yards out. He spots the 'keeper off his line before delicately floating the ball over him and into the roof of the net. The crowd behind the goal applaud. It's a beautiful moment that sets my heart racing. There's no arms raised, fuss or skidding on his knees, he just nonchalantly walks back to his mark. That's my boy.

My other lad hasn't doesn't bad either. On Thursday, news came in that he'd passed his A-Levels and is off to Leeds to study Business and Management. I just hope he stays away from Elland Road, or at least doesn't apply for the manager's job.

It's been a football fiesta this week. On Monday night Rammers and I bumped into Groundsman of the Year Neil Swift at Basford United. They had a sun tan-off competition, which Swifty won by a country mile. Wednesday was spent in the charming village of North Littleton, in Worcestershire. Bromsgrove Sporting were the visitors. John Ramshaw was on a spying mission as his team Rugby Town are due to play Bromsgrove in the FA Cup on Saturday. We managed a swift pint of Espirito De Carnaval from the Wadworth stable in the Ivy Inn before seeing Sporting turn over Littleton 3-0.

Murphy is livid on Saturday morning, Ms Moon has left 6 Music on his radio. Uncle Brian, on Radio 2, has already put in a one hour shift. I must teach Murph to tune the radio in with his beak. The young canary is a bundle of nerves as his team have a local derby with the Tractor Boys on Sunday lunchtime. The weather forecast looks wretched. I feel sorry for all those folk heading to Edgbaston for the T20 Finals. Ms Moon is dispatched to Netherfield Retail Park to purchase a couple of brollies from Poundland. I give her £2.10 and tell her to keep the change.

The skies are reasonably clear on the M1 as we head oop north. Fearne Cotton and Martin Kemp are having a shocker on Radio 2. I slip on my Motown CD that Ms Moon very kindly bought me from Morrisons. We're soon tapping our feet and 'singing' to The Supremes and Four Tops. Blimey Charlie, it's looking black over Bill's mother's, as darkened clouds roll in from Saddleworth Moor on the M62.

I'm looking forward to a real ale or two at the Fisherman's Retreat and the Irwell Brewery Tap, that comes highly recommended by those lovely, warm friendly folk on the Ramsbottom United message board. I'm really excited about the day, as Ms Moon suddenly pulls the car up on the corner of Bye Road. I see the blood drain from her face. The car is stuck in first gear and is clunking, banging and knocking. Chuffing hell, we should have brought the 'Rolls Royce.' Heavens to betsy, she only bought the darn Audi a few weeks ago.

It suddenly dawns on me there'll be no football for us today. I leave a raging Ms Moon to ring up the breakdown company and trudge off up the road towards the pub. It's siling it down with rain. I've forgotten my coat and my hoodie. All I have on is a thin fleece. I ring up Murphy Palmer the budgie in his cage as a river of rain gushes down from my head onto my face. Murphy whistles 'Cry Me A River' by Justin Timberlake down the phone. It's out of tune, but topical and beautiful, and makes me weep and wail even louder. Murphy reminds me that I did 40 consecutive weekend games last season. I end the call and break down in tears. My phone goes off again, It's Murphy whistling 'Dry Your Eyes' by The Streets - I block him.

There's no sign of the bloomin' pub, it must be further up the hill. Chuff that for a game of soldiers, I'm soaked to the skin. I about-turn and head back towards the car. We're parked on double yellow lines on the corner of the road. Our abandoned car is causing mayhem with the traffic and neighbourhood. It's like a scene from the cartoon series Wacky Races. Ms Moon looks fit to blow a gasket, I think the car already has. She walks up the road and grabs a disgusting meat and potato pie and a bag of Walkers plain crisps. It's hardly the romantic lunch we'd dreamt about.

I'm gutted about missing the ales, lunch and having a shufty around the town. Ramsbottom is a market town in the Metropolitan Borough of Bury in Greater Manchester. It lies on the river Irwell and has a population just shy of 18,000. The town's skyline is dominated by the Peel Monument which stands on Holcombe Moor, it's a memorial to local lad Sir Robert Peel, who was British prime minister and the founder of the police force.

The local cricket club has seen famous Aussies such as Brad Hodge, Michael Clarke and Ian Chappell don the Club sweater. The defunct pub, the Corner Pin, was where the band Elbow played their first gig. The Black Pudding World Throwing Championships are held at The Oaks pub on Bridge Street each year. The Rammy Festival takes place in September. Sticky and Murphy's favourite band, Smoove and Turrell, are playing, along with Julian Cope, Gaz Coombes, Fun Lovin' Criminals and The Selecter. Ramsbottom United FC were founded in 1966 and play at the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium. Floodlights were installed in 1996 from Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park ground.

I tweet the Rammy Utd timeline to tell them of the catastrophic events. They very kindly offer assistance. What a wonderful club, I can't wait to come back. John the Glaswegian breakdown driver tips up at 1pm. The car ends up on the back of the truck as we make the depressing trip back to Riddings in Derbyshire, where the bloody heap of scrap was bought from.

John is a brilliant story-teller and an ex pub landlord. He's picked up many a written-off and broken down car, of the rich and famous. John tells some brilliant anecdotes of his time as a landlord in Levenshulme in inner-city Manchester. He's fascinated and intrigued with our groundhopping hobby. He mentions that he was named after the Tottenham Hotspur, Scottish international player John White, who tragically lost his life on Crews Hill Golf Club, Enfield in 1965 after being struck by lightning whilst sheltering under a tree. He was only 27 years old.

We bid farewell to John, whilst we pick up the courtesy car. I'd like to stay with him for the rest of his shift as he was such a cool guy. Ms Moon shoots off to Morrisons, whilst I slump on the settee, sulking about missing the game. At least my team, Lincoln City, are winning, with new striker Jonny Margetts bagging all four goals.

I flick on the T20 cricket, Notts have already made an early exit. I watch Durham bowler Mark Wood cutting Joe Root in two with a 92mph delivery. I open a bottle of Punk IPA, it's only 5pm, it's going to be a long night. Poor old Rammy have lost to the oldest club in the World, Sheffield FC, 2-1. It warms the cockles of my heart when 'Snap Dragon' from Ramsbottom makes a generous donation to the Parkinson's Disease charity. I can't wait until we return to this wonderful club.

Footnote: Ms Moon's run of bad luck continued on Sunday morning when the courtesy car refused to fire up. Next time we're in Riddings we'll give Frank Butcher's Car Lot the swerve. She can't 'arf pick em.

Man of the Match 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' and John the vehicle recovery driver.