Sunday, September 2, 2018

Eccleshill United 0-1 Hebburn Town

It's Sunday afternoon and I'm slouched in a Chesterfield leather armchair in the window of the wonderful Embankment pub in 'North Bridgford', scrutinizing the Non-League Paper, whilst poring over a pint of Elsie Mo from the Castle Rock Brewery. Ironically, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', by Joy Division, is on the pub jukey. Hearts have been shattered and broken over the road at Notts County's Meadow Lane. The big love-in between Pies' owner Alan Hardy and 'future England manager' Kevin Nolan has come to an abrupt and sorrowful parting of the ways. Furthermore, there seems to be unrest in the boardroom with the immediate resignation of Nolan's drinking buddy, Non-Executive Director, Jon Enever, who churlishly announces it on his Twitter account. Vice Chairman, Darren Fletcher, the Five Live and BT football commentator, has also taken down any association with the World's oldest Football League Club from his Twitter profile.

The pub doors swing open and in waltzes an unshaven Charlie Slater from BBC East Midlands Today - probably called into action on his day off. He scouts the pub looking for folk to interview, to seek opinion and get a reaction. Customers shy away and politely decline to 'say a few words.' His eyes meet mine. "Mate, don't suppose you'd like to say a few words?" "No problem", I reply, "We're Lincoln City, we're top of the League." Slater shakes his head, about-turns and returns to his camera crew waiting patiently on Arkwright Street.

Bank Holiday Monday is spent up in County Durham at Spennymoor Town's glorious Brewery Field. I pay £1 for a bag of liquorice allsorts at a sweetie stall and stand on the raised terrace as Moors batter an out-of-sorts F.C. United of  Manchester 2-0 - their player-manager, Tom Greaves, walks a few days later. It just leaves me with Hereford FC to tick off in the National League North to complete the set - that's right, Hereford is proper oop North innit .. lol.

On Tuesday evening I witness a 2-2 thriller at Radford FC's Selhurst Street with Mr and Mrs John Harris and their daughter, Lucy, for company. Wednesday is spent at the World- famous Clifton All Whites watching my two lads play for their village team. They lose 5-3, but both get 90 minutes in the bank. I love to see my eldest lad taking people on. He's an old-fashioned winger with the fastest feet in south Notts; but needs to work on his tracking back and general fitness. 'Our Joe' is back in Leeds at Uni soon, for his final year, so I guess football isn't on his list of priorities.

Ms Moon and I enjoy tea at The Railway in Lowdham on Thursday evening. I make the short journey to Arnold Town's ground on Friday to see Gedling Southbank and Keyworth United draw in a six-goal thriller. The Green Army (players and supporters) seem to think the game is won before a ball has been kicked. The Taxman rocks up 20 minutes into the game, escaping the £2 admission charge. Is it a general rule of thumb to charge for an NSL game? Keyworth only spend five minutes in the changing room at half-time, following a lethargic and inept 'performance.' Young Sam Foster and seasoned campaigner Scott Litchfield come out of the game with their heads held high.

Ms Moon misses out on the trip up to Bradford due to holiday shopping and ironing (I do my own before all you Loose Women viewers pile in). The Big Man is drafted in after passing a late fitness test following a 48-hour stomach bug. I try to not to mention that the game is close to the 'Emmerdale Farm Experience' in Leeds - he hasn't missed an episode in over 30 years.

Within a few hours we're parked up at The Hop in the village of Saltaire. It's an old, converted tram shed with a two-tiered bar. Tourists and locals are in the beer garden basking in the late summer sunshine. The Big Man treats me to lunch and a pint of Silver King from the superb Ossett Brewery. He demolishes two brisket-wrapped in Yorkshire Puddings. There's nothing on the jukey; it's been replaced by Leicester City and Liverpool. The Foxes are 2-0 down; Trumpy Bolton will be drowning his sorrows on an all day sesh in Worcestershire.

Having made good time, we pop down to the Salt Mills. Saltaire is a Victorian model village located in Shipley. The Victorian era Salt's Mill and associated residential district located by the River Aire and Leeds and Liverpool Canal, is a designated UNESCO and World Heritage Site. Sir Titus Salt opened the woollen mills in 1853 and built the village of Saltaire to house his workers. He died in 1876. It is said that 100,000 lined the streets for his funeral. Bradford born artist David Hockney has a permanent collection of his work on display. 

We wander down to Roberts Park and its 14 acres. It's alive, kicking and has a cricket match taking place. We only have time to watch a couple of balls. The first is despatched back over the bowler's head, clearing the perimeter rope for a straight six. The second is feathered by the batsman into the keeper's hands.

Parking is easy-peasy outside Eccleshill United's Plumpton Park ground. The Club was founded in 1948. There is evidence that it was formed before this, but was disbanded due to the Second World War. They have played here since 1963.

It's £5 on the gate (thanks Big Man). I grab an excellent programme for £1 and a couple of raffle tickets. A very kind official gives us the lowdown on the club, as we admire the pristine condition of the playing surface. A stray shot from the Hebburn Town warm-up grazes the top of the Big Man's head, sending his sunglasses ten yards down the terracing. Despite being smothered in sun cream we use the stand as a hidey-hole from the baking, sweltering sunshine.

It's an FA Vase cup tie, at the Mitton Group Stadium with the long journey ending at Wembley Stadium. Hebburn is situated on the south bank of the River Tyne, sandwiched between the towns of Jarrow and Gateshead. Notable people from the town include: long-distance runner Brendan Foster and footballers George 'Geordie' Armstrong and Chris Basham. 

I'm sat next to Eccleshill diehard fan Marley the Cockapoo, dog. He's wide-eyed, bushy-tailed and donning his bandana. His bottom lip is quivering on 17 minutes when a cracking 50-yard cross-field ball by the visiting skipper is headed onto the crossbar, the 'keeper saves the rebound before the ball loops up for Armstrong to head Hebburn into the lead.

A large group of kids from a junior football team have added to the ambience and atmosphere with their chanting and clapping. Unfortunately for the Big Man they are all in the queue at the snack bar, preventing him from a much-needed full fat Coca-Cola. Sticky Palms ventures into the social club, where one or two visiting fans are worse for wear - not as bad as Corbridge-born Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce must be feeling right now, whose team are 4-0 down at Sheffield Utd. 

Eccleshill huff and puff but fail to blow the house down in the second half as the visitors put all the men behind the ball. The final whistle is blown, poor old Marley looks down in the dumps and off his food. I daren't look him in the eye.

Attendance: 111

Man of the Match: Marley and Charlie Slater the TV reporter.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Wednesfield 2-2 Chasetown

It's 10:30am on Sunday morning and I'm lurking about on Fox Road, outside the Larwood and Voce pub - don't worry folks, it's not a secret rendezvous with blog-drinking legend Trumpy Bolton. Today is the second day of the third Test between England and India at Trent Bridge. I take my pew in the Fox Road Stand with the Bakers (thanks for the ticket Rob) and 'Barthez.'

India have racked up 329 runs. England's reply is a pitiful and pathetic 161 - narrowly avoiding the follow-on thanks to a quick-fire 39 runs from a hard-hitting Jos Buttler (he's only 27 years old and seems to have been on the scene for years) I actually get confused on whether I'm watching England or Nottinghamshire CCC bat; both are as equally incompetent with willow in hand. England are rolled out in two and a half hours.

I wave the lads off and saunter up London Road towards the Fox and Grapes in the 'Creative Quarter.' I was going to have a swift one, but I might miss Songs of Praise, and besides, I've had enough 'Irish Champagne' to sink a battleship. I'm still feeling the after-effects of a late YouTube session with 'Taggart' last night. I'm tucked up in bed by ten bells after a superb Sunday roast dished up and cooked by Ms Moon. The highlight of the week is Aggers reading out a tweet I sent into Test Match Special saying I've had 50p on Graeme Swann to win Strictly Come Dancing at 25/1. Swann says he'll go halves with me, as I should be able to get four pints of beer for £12.50 in Carlton - the cheeky sod, unless I'm tooled up with 'Spoons vouchers.

On Tuesday evening I have a chippy tea on Rookery Lane in Lincoln. It's my first viewing of the Imps this season. They've made a steady enough start without setting the house on fire. I take my usual seat in the Selenity Stand - I've not seen them lose when I've been housed up here for the last 20 games I've watched. Our talisman skipper, Alex Woodyard, has jumped ship and done a runner to nasty Steve Evans' Peterborough United. We miss his legs, leadership and energy, as Bury give us the runaround in the first half; taking a deserved 1-0 lead into the break.

The only thing that has cheered me up at Sincil Bank this evening is a supporter's playlist booming out of the speakers prior to the game. He's picked some cracking tunes including,  The White Stripes and Stone Roses.

Danny Cowley tinkers with his starting line up and makes a tactical change in the second half; it's a managerial masterstroke. Big John Akinde strokes home a penalty, with 'one of our own', Lee Frecklington scoring a late winner which has me dancing in the aisles with joy. My unbeaten run in the Selenity continues.

I witness an exciting finish, the following evening, at Quorn's Farley Way, in Leicestershire, shared with good friends from Shepshed Dynamo, including Chairman Mick Sloan, Big Sean and White Van Man. Dynamo are 2-1 up with seconds remaining when Quorn have a goal chalked-off after a second opinion by the referee's assistant. The victory is fully deserved and it's great to see the beaming ear-to-ear smiles on the faces of folk from Shepshed.

The weekend starts late for Sticky Palms as I have a conference call with clients in New York - I'm gutted to miss Emmerdale Farm. In hindsight, I should have watched a re-run of Amos, Mr Wilkes and Seth, rather than watching the dire football dished up by Middlesbrough and WBA in an overrated Championship. An out-of-favour Craig Dawson is on the bench for WBA. He was discovered by Bernard Manning junior playing parks' football in Rochdale on a Sunday morning, whilst being a glass collector at the Dog and Partridge pub in the town.

I love how football comes together in someone's hour of need. 'Forza Garibaldi', a Nottingham Forest supporter driven movement, has sent out an SOS to folk that HOPE, a Nottingham Christian organisation, are appealing for food bank donations, as emergency supplies are running low. I clock this on Jitz Jani's Facebook feed. Ms Moon kindly shoots over the road to Tesco Carlton on Saturday morning, to jam pack a couple of bags of Red Alert items. We drop them off at the Trent Navigation pub, on Meadow Lane, adjacent to Big Alan Hardy's Notts County ground. Today they are playing an in-form Lincoln City - I would seriously have a cardiac arrest if I attended that game, so give it the swerve and head towards the Black Country in Wolverhampton for FA Cup action.

The Bank Holiday traffic is a blooming nightmare. Sat Nav is having a dicky fit down the A453. Five Live are reporting that some poor soul is threatening to jump off a bridge on the M6 and there is a 90-minute delay between junctions 8 - 10 on the M42. We jump off onto the A5 and skirt around the back of Tamworth.

Sticky Palms has a cracking Good Pub Guide entry lined-up in the sleepy village of Codsall in Staffordshire, where the broadcaster and presenter Jacqui Oatley MBE was brought up. There's a beer festival being held at Codsall Station as we roll into the car park. I'm not too chuffed that there's no food on today, just a burger van outside the pub. A cracking pint of Hereford Pale Ale makes up for the disappointment of no snap.

Ms Moon slams the brakes on halfway down Stubby Lane, just outside Bargain Booze. I dash across the road and take a snap of the street sign, with bemused onlookers giving me the odd eyes. Flawed genius Kevin Rowland, the frontman of Dexys Midnight Runners, lived on this road as a kid. Wednesfield is two miles outside Wolverhampton with a population of 22,000.

We park outside an old people's complex just off Amos Lane and take a short stroll to the turnstile. It's £7 entry and £1 for a programme. I'm up for banter on the gate; the chap clearly isn't. We're both 'Hank Marvin' - the snack bar is just opening up for trade. Two small hot dogs and a tray of chips are served up by a cheery lady for £5.50.

We chance upon a couple of 'Northern exiles' from Darlington who are Chasetown followers. The Scholars are winless this season and they are cautious and nervous about this afternoon's outcome. Wednesfield are two steps below Chasetown, they play with freedom, confidence and desire.

Ms Moon and I hook up with 'Blackpool Jane' who is Matchday Secretary with Chasetown. Jane has seen Blackpool play at an astonishing 90 League grounds - she just has West Ham's new ground and The Lawn at Forest Green to chalk off, to complete the set. Jane is concerned that the visitors only started their season last week, so a lack of game time may hinder their progress.

Blimey Charlie, Wednesfield look hungry; particularly wing wizard 'Harry' with his mazy runs and silky skills. In contrast, Chasetown have little to offer and it's no surprise that they go a goal down following a smart finish by Pond.

Chasetown lack leaders and play without heart. They are fortunate to go into the break with just one goal separating the sides, after a glaring miss by the bald-headed Ben Wilkins. Ms Moon and I have a sugar rush. I take a stroll across to the social club to grab a bar of chocolate; the place is heaving with folk. I return empty-handed; the Princess has the face on.

Jane has positioned herself next to the visitor's dugout so she can accurately write down the substitutions for the FA match report she has to submit. Chasetown restore parity with a brilliant finish by Jacob Lovatt, who has put in a performance worthy of a place in the Chasetown Amateur Dramatic Society, with his rolling around and theatrics. They take a 2-1 lead and look to be cruising into the next round with a £2,890 winning cheque.

A melee ensues following a bad challenge just outside the area. I've seen more handbags at Harvey Nicks. Wednesfield's 4 jacket is churlish and cowardly, as he runs 15 yards to push an opponent over, before hiding on the touchline. The referee correctly brandishes a Red card. The 9 jacket for Chasetown is a lucky lad to only see a Yellow waved in his face.

It's getting tasty where we're stood. A gang of sewer-mouthed youths appear from nowhere and start hurling abuse at the Ref's assistant, as does a track-suited Wednesbury official. Incredibly the Cottagers equalise to force a replay that they certainly deserve.

Attendance: 105

Man of the Match: Forza Garibaldi

Monday, August 20, 2018

Newark Flowserve 4-1 Heanor Town

We're in Newcastle for the evening. Ms Moon and I have a quick drinky poo on arrival in the bar of the boutique hotel, Motel One, on High Bridge. A group of Toon fans are drowning their sorrows and holding an inquest, after a 2-1 loss to Spurs earlier in the day.

I take a stroll down to the city's oldest pub, the Crown Posada, whilst the Princess chills out and gets ready in the hotel room. The pub is mobbed out with folk. I stand on my tip toes scanning the pumps to see what ales are on - I can't see a flipping thing. I clock on the back shelf, in a beer fridge, a small can of Tropicana craft ale from the Tiny Rebel Brewery. I'm gagging for a drink, so shout up one of them. WHAT? Four pounds chuffing fifty. I down the can in two gulps, whilst admiring the stain-glassed windows, before slipping out of the door and heading down a jam-packed Quayside.

We have a cracking night in the Toon, apart from being ripped off for £18 in The Botanist for a gin and prosecco. Match of the Day is viewed in bed, sharing kebab meat and chips - does anybody else do this? We're greeted with darkened skies and pouring rain on Sunday morning. Blakes on Grey Street does the best breakfast in the Toon. There's no point in hanging about after, so we head home down the A1. I'm in Castle Rock's Willowbrook on Gedling Road by 2pm, slurping a couple of ales while watching Liverpool tonk the Iron 4-0.

Ms Moon watches a couple of films on Netflix as I smash out the Blyth blog. I'm astonished again to see 3,000 hits on the blog counter. I can't wait for the Vlog to start in October, as a YouTube Channel should reach a larger audience.

It's Tuesday evening and I'm chugging down the A52 towards the old coal mining village of Cotgrave. It's 'El Classico - Cotgrave FC v Keyworth United in what I used to call 'the best League in the World.' (Notts Senior League). 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' (Sticky jnr) is on the bench for the 'Green Army.' The visitors are all over the shop and are soon 2-0 down. They pull a goal back and are in the game until on the hour. It's gutless performance in final 30 minutes, where many throw the towel in, preferring to whinge, moan and point the finger of blame at one another.

I'm back in Cotgrave the following evening as a Keyworth Development team take on Cotgrave Reserves. 'Georgie' and 'Our Joe' are playing along with a few other boys I used to coach back in the day. They're are 3-0 down at the break with a Keyworth player sent off. A spirited second half sees them stick together and earn a 45-minute clean sheet. I'm not surprised that the Keyworth first team manager and assistant have popped down to view proceedings, and to see what's in reserve - I would of done the same after last night's omnishambles. 22-year-old Josh Stolworthy is outstanding in the heart of Keyworth's defence.

It's Friday evening and I'm shouting up a Fruit 'n Flame Pepper and Strawberry real ale at the Fox and Grapes in Sneinton. Ms Moon joins me for a glass of bubbles, before we part company. I peg it up London Road and wander onto Meadow Lane. Notts County owner 'Big Alan Hardy' has made it £10 a ticket for tonight's game versus Yeovil Town - I guess it's been brought forward due to the Test match starting at Trent Bridge tomorrow.

I'm sat up in the Gods of the Derek Pavis Stand, next to the Directors' Box. The last time I was here the Sky Blues of Coventry passed the Pies off the park. The owner has backed Kevin Nolan in the transfer market. He has revamped his forward line, but not a creaking defence. 'Big Al' has splashed the cash on a new DJ. He includes The Smiths and Empire of the Sun in his set. I notice Hardy breakaway from an interview to shake hands with ex Pie Carl Dickinson who now plays for Yeovil.

Yeovil miss two sitters in the first few minutes of the game. A new-look Notts County are impressive going forward. A faux pas by Hewitt leads to the game's opening goal for Fisher, who further extends the Glovers lead two minutes later.

The Pies are shambolic in the second half. It ends up 4-0 to Yeovil, who are made to look like Brazil. The remaining few thousand supporters, housed in the Pavis Stand, sportingly applaud off the visitors - it warms the cockles of my heart. 88 Yeovil supporters will enjoy the 200-mile coach journey home.

Saturday morning is spent hoovering and cleaning up as we have guests this evening - Mr and Mrs 'Taggart' are staying over. No doubt it'll end up messy, with a sing-song on You Tube. Newark is predictably in gridlock. I jump out of the car and arrange to meet Ms Moon outside one of our favourite hostelries, the Prince Rupert, on Stodman Street. I need to tick off another Good Pub Guide entry on Town Wharf.

The Castle Barge is a floating pub. Below the deck is a cosy bar with Lincoln Green ales. I have a pint of Archer, whilst listening to Brick House by The Commodores, a single that peaked at 32 in the UK singles chart back in 1977. Lunch at Rupert's is sublime, although a wasp has taken a liking to my aftershave (Brut). Flowserve's ground is a short drive away in New Balderton.

Newark is a market town that stands on the River Trent, with a population of 27,000. King John died of dysentery in the town in 1216. British Sugar has a large factory on the Great North Road. Ransome and Marles, Lauren's Patisseries, Currys, Dixon's and Flowserve are all notable employers in Newark. Vocalist, Jay McGuiness from the band The Wanted, was born in the town, as was former England rugby international full-back Dusty Hare, ex-Lincoln City left-back Shane Nicholson and Nottinghamshire CCC legendary batsman Paul Johnson. The comedian Norman Pace grew up in Newark too.

It's £4 on the gate, £1 for an excellent programme - I particularly enjoyed the focus on hotshot striker Sam Agar, who is a soldier. His miscellaneous dislikes tickles my ribs. There's quite a few folk knocking about and by all accounts a big investment is being made in the Club's development. I'm saddened to hear of the recent passing of the groundsman Colin Briggs. His pitch looks a picture, with clear evidence of his tender loving care. Rest in peace, Colin.

Heanor Town from Derbyshire are today's visitors; a club I absolutely adore and enjoy visiting. The team is unrecognisable from last season.I strike up a conversation with a chap standing next to me. His uncle was called Billy Cobb who became the first player to score a European goal for Nottingham Forest versus Valencia in the 1961-62 Fairs Cup.

The teams are announced over the PA system. The guy on the microphone is the consummate pro. The Highwaymen of Newark emerge from the dressing room to the tune of Stand and Deliver by Adam and the Ants.

Flowserve are unfortunate to go in at half-time at 0-0. They've hit the woodwork twice, with 'Soldier Sam' a constant thorn in Heanor's side. His strike partner, Jordan Thomas, the youngest player to have played in a competitive game for Lincoln City at aged 16 years old, has hobbled off injured. The raffle numbers are announced during the break; we won't be claiming owt this week. The DJ spins Winner Takes it All by Abba.

Mustapha John has replaced Thomas and has a major impact on the game. The Highwaymen have to fight back after going 1-0 down to a Luke Crosby strike. We stand behind the goal Flowserve attack. John hits the back of the onion bag three times to claim the match ball, the hardworking Solomon gets a goal his game deserves.

Come end of the season Newark Flowserve should be in the mix for the title chase with a Champions League spot a minimum target. Another great day out and met some lovely people.

Attendance: 162

Men of the Match: the Yeovil 88.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Blyth Spartans 8-1 Chester FC

Sunday morning is spent weeding in the garden, reflecting on a wonderful day out in Bristol and Clevedon yesterday. Ms Moon and I enjoy some fine dining and quality cuisine at the Hammer and Pincers, Wymeswold, in the Charnwood district of Leicestershire. I fire up the laptop on our return to HQ and knock out the Bristol City v Nottingham Forest blog, sat in a sun-drenched garden, with Pickering's Gin for company. 3,000 hits show there's life in the old blog yet, and room too for the forthcoming vlog (software and instructions downloaded, training to commence shortly).

On Tuesday teatime I sink the best pint of Bass, ever, at one of my old haunts, the Wysall Plough - I tell Ms Moon it's for research purposes. Wysall is a 'Thankful Village' - 12 men were sent to War in 1914 and returned home safely. There are 52 other Thankful Villages in England and Wales, compare this to only one in France. The villagers in Wysall raised £118 as a thanksgiving celebration and bought the church their first clock in 1920.

I make the short journey over to the Packe Arms, in Hoton, to hook up with White Van Man and Big Ed, for tea, before racing over to the Dovecote to see Ilkeston Town narrowly defeat Shepshed Dynamo 3-2 in the Midland Football League. The following evening is spent yet again in this neck of the woods, watching Quorn AFC with an old mate, Bobby Oldham. The visitors, Long Eaton, are well-beaten 4-2. 45-year-old Russell Hoult, with 445 professional appearances under his belt, has the 'keeper's gloves on for Quorn.

Early on Friday evening I sink a couple of pints of Shipyard at the Woodthorpe Top 'Spoons on Mapperley Tops, ironically adjacent to the war memorial. In another twist of fate, an ex-soldier is proudly showing his friends a phone clip of him playing the Last Post at a ceremony. I spot an astonishing photo of Lord's cricket ground on social media, where England and India have been dodging the showers for most of the day.

I'm like an overexcited little kid at Christmas. Sticky Palms is wide-eyed and bushy-tailed before the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. I'm singing 'I'm So Excited' by the Pointer Sisters in a high-pitched silly voice that wakens Ms Moon from her slumber. I shoot down to Netherfield Costa and make sure the princess is fuelled to the brim with a Latte, as she can be a tad irritable and tetchy first thing in the morning.

I'm raising money for Help for Heroes this season to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War. It's £1 per goal at each new ground visited and £5 for each Thankful Village I visit. As Dermot O'Leary spins 'Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode we roll into Norton Le-Clay and nearby Cundall - both sleepy villages in North Yorkshire, who saw all their armed forces return home in 1918.

A grouchy Ms Moon ticks off another Costa at Northallerton services as an angry wasp chases a petrified Sticky Palms around the car park. By 11:am we're parked up on the seafront at Seaton Sluice, just a few miles down the road from Blyth.

In the car park we chance upon a council warden, a member of the public and a young chap from the travelling fraternity having a set to about the well being of a Shetland Pony, who has a nasty flesh wound on his leg. The lad claims to have taken the pony into the sea, so the salt can cleanse the wound - it does look suspicious, but we don't want to get involved, with threats of calls to the police - it's a very strange and delicate situation.

We wander down the beach and clamber up the sand dunes towards the harbour and more importantly the Kings Arms that overlooks the bay. It's Seaton Sluice Harbour Day. All monies raised are going towards the RNLI. There are fairground rides, bouncy castles, face-painting and a band warming up at the carnival.

The pub is bustling with folk. I've arranged to meet a Nottingham-based Blyth Spartans fan called Kevin Marshall - we have mutual acquaintances, but have not met in person before. It's a bit like a blind date. Kev and his other half went to Edgar Street in Hereford to watch Spartans last week, so is a man after my own heart. Ms Moon and I enjoy fish, chips and mushy peas. Kev and I quaff a pint of Abbots ale and an 'Inspired' from the Hook Norton Brewery.

We stick the car on a side street called Arcadia Terrace in Blyth. Ms Moon says she'll remember the name as Election Day by Arcadia (a Duran Duran project) is one of her favourite tunes. Talking of Toon, Newcastle have been beaten 2-1 by Spurs at St James' Park.

Blyth is a town that lies on the coast of Northumberland with a population of 37,000. The main industries that helped the town prosper were coal mining and shipbuilding. The Royal Navy's first aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, was built here in 1914. Notable people with connections to the town include: Captain Richard Been Stannard, recipient of the Victoria Cross, Dire Straits singer Mark Knopfler and Brighton Hove Albion defender Dan Burn.

Blyth Spartans were founded in 1899 and play their home games at Croft Park. They are well known for their famous giant-killing feats in the FA Cup. In 1978 they reach the 5th round of the FA Cup. Notable former players include: John 'Budgie' Burridge, Graham Fenton, Marcus Maddison and Alan Shoulder.

We take a pew perched up high in the Port of Blyth Stand. It was £12 on the gate, £2 for a programme and a further £2 to gain access to the stand. I bump into a groundhopper who supports Dagenham and Redbridge. He arrived in Newcastle in the early hours of the morning and spent four hours in the casino, so hasn't had any sleep. He's a bit of a character and makes me chuckle.

Blyth have lost their two opening games. Chester FC are unbeaten and are co-managed by former Salford managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley. I am a Jonah when it comes to watching Jonno and Bernard's teams - I think it's three wins in 10 outings - current form would suggest they should be okay today.

I was expecting the Spartans PA guy to play some Dire Straits, Sting or heaven forbid, Jimmy Nail, but sadly there's no music today. although the teams are announced over the tannoy. Ms Moon is amused by a saying painted on the stand behind the goal. It says 'Spartans Do Not Ask How Many Are The Enemy, But Where Are They?'

Chester haven't a clue where the enemy lies. They are hit by a north-eastern whirlwind. Comedy defending sees Daniel Maguire ('Nippa' they call him) take advantage. I'm not sure who leaps higher for the second goal on 18 minutes, Kev next to me or Green in the box. Holmes completes the first-half rout on 42 minutes to make it 3-0. A standing ovation by the Spartans supporters sends a tingle down my spine. Kev Marshall is grinning from ear to ear and has risen from his seat to applaud each goal. In contrast Chester are booed off by angry supporters who have made the 400-mile round trip.

A bewildered and shellshocked 'Jonno' and Bernard stomp down the tunnel. What I'd give to be a fly on that dressing room wall. I take a wander around the wonderful Croft Park ground at the break. Ms Moon treats me to a Double Decker from 'Paula's Pantry.'

The second half is a horror show for the visitors. Dudley misses an early chance before Reid makes it 4-0 on 55 minutes. Things go from bad to worse with skipper Roberts shown a straight Red for a dangerous tackle in the centre circle.  An own goal by Howson makes it 5-0, before Stopworth scores a consolation goal. Chester then see a shot spectacularly cleared off the line. Before further goals from Wrightson, Buddle and 'Nippa' ensure £9 is pledged to the Help for Heroes charity (+ £10 for visiting two Thankful Villages.

An emotional Anthony Johnson bravely fronts up to the Chester FC TV cameras after the game. He says he is 'embarrassed', 'shaking with rage' and has asked for some of the players to 'rip up their contracts.'

It's been another day of making memories for us two to cherish. The takeaway for me is what a beautiful game of football Blyth Spartans have played today.

Attendance: 737

Man of the Match: 'Nippa'

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Bristol City 1-1 Nottingham Forest

It's Friday evening and an excited Sticky Palms, on the eve of the new football season, is on the Carlton No.27 bus heading into Nottingham city centre. Tomorrow I'll be chalking off my 85th Football League ground, as I close in on completing my 45-year old quest to visit the '92'. I peer out of the double-decker top window, staring down on the 'professional drinkers' at a Wetherspoon's establishment called the Free Man on Carlton Hill. Folk are spilling out of the front door onto the pavement -it's like a scene from the cobbled streets of San Antonio back in the day.

The reason for my trip into Nottingham is to drop by the offices of ICN on Stoney Street, in Hockley, at the heart of the city's 'Creative Quarter.' The Mayor of London' owns the company and is going to teach me how to set up and edit a vlog, to run alongside this blog I've written for over 12 years. After a quick editorial with one of his young guns, Alex, we all retire to the Southbank Bar on Friar Lane, where I quench my thirst with a couple of New Dawn citra pale ales from the Navigation Brewery. England and India (well Virat Kohli going solo) are pitting their wits in a dramatic finale to the Test match at Birmingham's Edgbaston.

I head home cradling a small Five Guys burger wrapped up in foil. Reading are playing D***y in the Championship curtain raiser. A late Tom Lawrence header from a brilliant Mason Bennett cross sees the Sheep grab a fortuitous three points. Ms Moon is on the lash up on Mapperley Tops, so I turn in early for a good night's kip.

I'm up at the crack of dawn and greeted with the remnants of a Chinese takeaway scattered about the kitchen surface. I bid farewell to a dozing Princess and head over to Nottinghamshire's 'premier resort' - West Bridgford. Piers, a Tricky Tree diehard, messaged me the other day with an offer of a ticket for Ashton Gate - I bit his hand off.

I flick on the radio, Tony Blackburn is playing 'Hey Big Spender' - ooh the irony. Aitor Karanka has thrown the kitchen sink at recruitment in a desperate attempt to reach the Premiership, after 20 years in the doldrums and wilderness.

I take a left turn off the Melton Road before spinning the car onto Stanley Road - not to be confused with where Paul Weller was brought up - an album voted the 46th greatest of all-time by Q Magazine readers. We're soon bombing down the A453 and onto the M42. I've known Piers for a few years now and have shared some cracking group weekends away with him, that he has meticulously planned, with no stone unturned, at Whitby, in North Yorkshire and Abersoch in North Wales.

The chance to visit the town of Clevedon, in North Somerset, is too good an opportunity to turn down. We're parked up on the front by 10am. We tuck into eggs benedict  (a West Bridgford housewives' favourite) at a seaside cafe, admiring the wonderful vista of the Bristol Channel and 150-year-old pier, which we stroll down in an effort to walk off the breakfast. Famous residents in the past include: bowls player David Bryant, darts player Bob Anderson and punk rocker Sid Vicious, who used to practise spitting off the pier - better than peeing off it like Monty Panesar did in Brighton.

Travel guides recommend we park the car up at Bedminster Cricket Club - it's only a ten-minute stroll up to the ground. We hook up with a Bristol City fan who lives in Cardiff and engage in conversation. He says he has relatives up in Shirebrook, near Mansfield. I remark that the actor John Hurt was born in the old mining town. "Yeah, I know, my auntie used to babysit for him." he replies.

Bedminster is in a hipster part of Bristol. We're both dying of thirst, so dive into the Bristol Beer Company Tap Room. I enjoy a pint of Hawaii Juice-O - it's amber nectar and down the hatch in five minutes, as we soak up the sunshine, ambience and street art.  We're sat in the much-needed shade in the Atyeo Stand 45 minutes before kick-off.

Bristol has a population of just less than half a million. The city is associated with the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London Paddington, two steamships: SS Great Britain and SS Great Western and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Notable people born in Bristol include: cricketers: Chris Broad W G Grace and Andy Stovold, footballers: Jack Butland, Keith Curle, Larry Lloyd (middle name Valentine; I'm not brave enough to ask him to confirm this)) and Marcus Stewart, ice skater Robin Cousins, snooker player Judd Trump, actor John Challis (Boycie from Only Fools and Horses), comedian Lee Evans and TV director Stephen Merchant. The city has always had a vibrant and underground music scene. Massive Attack, Nick Kershaw, Portishead, Pigbag and Rip, Rig + Panic were all Bristol-based.

Bristol City were founded in 1894 and are nicknamed the Robins. They have played at Ashton Gate just short of 115 years. Record transfer fee paid is £5 million to Angers for Senegalese striker Famara Diedhiou (currently serving a six-match ban for spitting at an opponent). Record transfer fee received is £15 million from Aston Villa for Jonathan Kodjia. Notable former managers include: Joe Jordan, Roy Hodgson, Tony Pulis, Steve Cotterill and Sean O'Driscoll.

The ground is impressive, particularly the Lansdown Stand which has an 11,000 capacity and towers above the pitch. David Bryant would love a game of bowls on the lush surface, which at first glance looks artificial. The DJ plays The Killers, Caesars and Madness and the brilliant Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, who hold cult status in the city.

The teams emerge from the tunnel with the beer-fuelled, overexcited Forest faithful singing 'Dawson is back.' The Tricky Trees are soon on the back foot as the Robins rampage down the left-hand side, playing some fast flowing breathtaking football. A corner is floated in and directed towards goal by O'Dowd but brilliantly beaten away by Romanian 'keeper Costel Pantilimon. Seconds later the ball is returned back into the box with ex-Ram, Andreas Weimann, leaping higher than others to nod home the opening goal.

The home crowd come alive; the away following are in shock and dumbfounded. City are rampant and terrorising Tricky Tree right back Tendayi Darikwa, who has little support, with folk not tracking back. The bloke behind me asks why Forest have 'a dwarf' on the near post' as another corner comes sailing in, with Ben Osborn dramatically clearing off the line.

A chink of light appears for Forest as Gil Dias seizes upon a misplaced pass. He ventures forward and plays in Murphy who dithers instead of shooting first time, choosing to shift the ball onto his left peg before fluffing his chance.

Forest fans are sobering up now and venting their anger at Irishman Daryl Murphy. One shouts out "are we playing with a cardboard cutout?" I remark to Piers that Murphy is usually good for a goal. Karanka has clearly kicked an underperforming Forest up the jacksy at half-time. They play with fire in their belly from kick off. Murphy makes amends within 30 seconds of the restart, guiding a header into the bottom corner following a pinpoint cross from the Algerian, Adelene Guedioura. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' bellows out from the away end, as Forest get a vice-like grip on the game.

Joao Carvalho starts to get on the ball and weaves a bit of magic with his quick feet and sharp turns. Joe Lolley enters the fray and has an immediate impact, forcing a great stop from City 'keeper Maenpaa. The Robins' Bryan forces another fine save from the shovel hands of Pantilimon, before the excellent ref, Darren Bond, calls time on a very entertaining game.

Forest have spent some lolly on their foreign contingent, but it is 'one of their own' Ben Osborn, at the club since the age of nine years old, who is head and shoulders above the rest.

Attendance: 22,395 (Away following 2,692)

Man of the Match: Ben Osborn

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Nelson 1-3 Ramsbottom United

It's Friday the 18th May, 'North' and West Bridgford are swarming with a sea of Sky Blue scarves and shirts, as Coventry City and their huge away following, pack out the Trent Bridge Inn, Southbank Bar and The Embankment (Jessie Boot's first dispensary). They have been fortunate to come away from last Saturday's first leg play-off game at the Ricoh Arena with honours even, after a last-minute miscarriage of justice. The Pies' full back, Matt Tootle, wins the ball as clean as a whistle on a greasy, rain-soaked surface. The buffoon of a referee deems otherwise and points to the spot. Notts' owner, 'Big Alan Hardy' is incandescent with rage and shoots from the hip on social media (a regular occurrence). He fires out more tweets than Donald Trump.

I sit in the Derek Pavis Stand with 'Bruiser' (Forest fan) and his Dad and view proceedings. Kevin Nolan's route one tactics are baffling and Stan Laurel head-scratching, as Coventry gain momentum and possession, to race into a two-goal lead. To their credit, Notts fightback and are cruelly denied an equaliser, with Jonathan Forte incorrectly flagged offside by another bungling official.

I've been sat next to three lads who wouldn't be out of place in the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. They show no interest in engaging with me at the break. I smell a rat. It all becomes apparent when Coventry seal Notts' fate with a decisive winner-takes-all third goal. The guy next to me starts fist-pumping and his actions are quickly recognised by the baying-pack of Pies' fans sitting in the vicinity. I fend off a few hooligans who offer the infiltrators outside for fisticuffs. They are soon scurrying back down the stairwell when the three lads stand up - not one is below 6'5". I whisper in the ear of one of them that it might be best to skiddadle, before they are lead out by 'Norris Cole' one of the stewards.

The football season is over. We enjoy sun-soaked evenings sat in the back garden, on our new outdoor furniture, reading, chit-chatting laughing and drinking copious amounts of alcohol - like most of the country. We bask in the glory of relative, unexpected World Cup 'success.' I'm gutted when we're paired with Croatia in the semi-finals, as I've had a £5 each way bet on the Eastern Europeans, as the lads at the car wash had told me they were nailed on at 33/1. England run on an empty tank in extra time - but the country is lifted in desperate, gloomy uncertain times - the feel-good-factor can't last forever.

I enjoyed some sun on my back in Lisbon. Whilst the lads pounded the fairways of the local golf courses, I jumped on the train several times to make the 40-minute journey into Portugal's capital. They were still sweeping up the debris in the streets after Ronaldo's astonishing hat-trick versus Spain a few days earlier. The Mayor of London and I found a cosy backstreet bar in the Bairro Alto district of the city. We watch an unconvincing Portugal struggle to beat an impressive Moroccan outfit.

I've been planning this year's groundhopping schedule for months now. I've seven grounds left to complete the 92 League grounds - there's an outside chance that it could be this season. I'll keep Pompey in the back pocket, as I wouldn't mind finishing off at such an iconic ground, steeped in history and tradition.

Nelson - or 'Little Wembley' as the locals call it, has been on the radar for ages. Ms Moon has a hen night, so is unable to make the team bus - White Van Man and Big Ed are drafted in, with it being a blog debut for the latter.

I meet Ms Moon on Friday tea-time in the Crafty Crow, close to Nottingham Castle and quaff a couple of real ales. I'd earlier popped into Weaver's, a wine and spirits merchant on Castle Gate, where I bagged a bottle of Pickering's Original Gin. I enjoy a few stiff ones in the back garden whilst Ms Moon catches up with the soaps.

The tropical rain disturbs my sleep at dawn the following morning. I fill up with diesel at Morrisons and get the car washed by the Eastern European lads, who I generously tip after the Croatian World Cup journey.

I make the short trip over the water to Big Ed's house in Clifton Grove. I hear rubber burning and a radio blaring out as White Van Man (Starsky and Hutch style) parks up his vehicle. We chew the cud on the best way to head up to Lancashire, as I want to avoid the M6 like the plague.

White Van Man adjusts the front seat; he's almost lying horizontal, Big Ed sits in the back as quiet as a mouse. I've done my research folks, as the Big Man loves his fish 'n chips. Sadly the best chippy in the world, Grandma Pollards, close to Todmorden, just off the M62, is closed for a week. 6Music presenter Stuart Maconie recommended that chippy in his Pies and Prejudice book.

I fancy a shufty around the Upper Calder Valley town of Hebden Bridge. We park up on the High Street and peg it up to the Crown chippy as WVM's stomach has been rumbling for a while now. The Big Man is salivating and chuckling as he orders up pie, chips and gravy. Ed and I sample the haddock, which we eat on the bridge admiring the views of the River Calder and Hebden Water.

WVM's pie vanishes quicker than a Trumpy Bolton pint of real ale. He eyes up a custard pie at a nearby bakery - even I get in on the act with a vanilla custard slice. We jump back in the car. I nearly wipe out two cyclists at a junction, as we head out of town and onto the moors. They were pedalling that quick they were probably taking illegal substances, as you do in that 'sport.'

Sat Nav takes us on a death ride across the moors - I feel like punching it in the face. I barely get the car out of second gear - it's like a scene from Father Ted when Dougal can't go over 5 mph in the milk float (a Mickey take of the film Speed) I'm sweating like a good 'un by the time we park outside Victory Park.

Nelson is in the Borough of Pendle, in Lancashire, close to Burnley. It has a population just shy of 30,000. It was a mill town during the Industrial Revolution. In the 20th Century it was well known for making confectionaries such as Jelly Babies and Victory V.

Notable folk to have been born or lived in the town include: West Indian cricketer Learie Constantine, who played for Nelson CC between 1929 and 1938 (a life covered in a brilliant book by Harry Pearson), footballer and manager Mike Phelan (lovely bloke, stopped in our hotel in Portugal once), actor John Simm, from Life on Mars, antiques expert Eric Knowles and Emmerdale Farm actress Nicola Wheeler (contact Ms Moon or White Van Man for further details).

We wander up a path to be greeted by two lads on the gate. It's £5 in (thanks lads, and for lunch too). There's no sign of a programme or teamsheet; it is only a friendly after all. The ground is a little belter. There's a low-roofed green-painted wooden stand running alongside the furthest touchline. On the opposite side are the dugouts, with the backdrop of twenty or so grey-stoned cottages. The furthest goal is dwarfed by huge trees that sway in the stiff breeze that is blowing in some inclement weather.

Nelson FC were founded in 1881. They were a founder member of the Third Division North of the Football League, before losing their Football League status in 1931. Former Liverpool manager Joe Fagan has played for the Admirals.

We do a customary circuit of the ground. Big Ed dives into the clubhouse for a cup of  Maxwell House. I take a gleg at all the memorabilia and press cuttings pinned onto a noticeboard. Ramsbottom are a couple of leagues above Nelson, so will fancy their chances. We had to bail out from visiting there with Ms Moon when her Audi A3 clutch gave up the ghost.

WVM is still spewing at my pathetic attempts at driving across the moors - we'd have been here in half the time had he been behind the wheel. He shouts out I'll be walking home if it's 0-0 just as Rammy open the scoring on 30 seconds after a breathtaking move and raking pass out to the wing. - "I can't half pick 'em Son".

Lord knows what 'Big Ed' thinks about watching one man and his dog, when his team, NFFC, average over 20,000 - he seems to be enjoying it though. Nelson restore parity. The Nelson Twitter account has caught my attention and has us in stitches here are a few tweets:

"2pm ko today, so the boys are back in time for Love Island."

"30 secs gone 1-0 to Rammy, 'keeper should have done better #poppadomwrists

"Jake Lloyd has gone down on the far side with sunburn #gingerproblems

"Gaz Lloyd turns up late on half-time after a round of crazy golf with his Mum."

Lancastrians are well known for their sense of humour. Ramsbottom put the game to bed after a defensive faux pas, and are 3-1 up by the time we're on the M65 heading back home.

Man of the Match: Nelson Tweeter.

Next Blog: Bristol City v Nottingham Forest