Sunday, July 24, 2016

Yaxley FC 5-2 Spalding United

We enjoy a traffic-free journey back from Ashton-under-Lyne to Nottingham over the Woodhead Pass as the sun sets on the Pennines. Henry Blofeld, 'my dear old thing', the TMS cricket commentator, said the other day, "If you can see the Pennines it's about to rain, if you can't see them, it's already raining."

On Sunday we venture off-piste at Bradgate Park, just outside Leicester. Both of us gasp for air and quench a raging thirst, as we neck bottled water after a two hour trek. I get the monk-on in the Badgers Sett in the village of Cropston when a smirking barman says they've no pale ale on. The Sunday roast ain't bad though.

Travelling home, there's a unscheduled pit-stop in the village of Kegworth at the local cricket club. I've enjoyed many a nail-biting cup tie over the years.  Leicestershire and Northumberland under 15 girls are playing. Lord knows what time the visitors will arrive home, as it's well after 4pm when Leicestershire attempt to chase down the 196 runs that have been set.

The big news in our area this week is that the original Bramley apple tree, planted over 200 years ago, has been given its last rites in the village of Southwell. It has a terminal fungus infection which has worked its way into the tree's water system.

Nothing takes my fancy on the midweek friendly front in Notts. I help out (score) the U10s at my local cricket club on Tuesday evening. It'll be probably their last game of the season as the schools are soon to break up for the summer.

Sad news is breaking from Ashton United on Thursday. Their star striker Martin Pilkington has been banned for four years after being found guilty of breaching betting regulations. Martin's a fine player, I saw him score at Hurst Cross on my last visit. He confesses to betting on the opposition in a game he was playing in, a game he actually scored in. What would of happened if he had taken a penalty in the dying embers of that game ?

It's time for my Friday evening constitutional down to the Starting Gate in Colwick. Ms Moon and I, in muggy and overcast conditions, wander through Colwick Park, into woods, before discovering a clearing and a footpath down a slope which takes you through to the beer garden. They look after their ales here and their hanging baskets. I have a pint of Tribute, before the long slog home.

Murphy Palmer the budgie has proper got the face on. He cried like a little baby when I replaced a scruffy old toy with a pile of Cuttlefish attached to coloured bits of string that he can stick his beak into. He's not been out his cage since - the mardy little sod. He's pecking out a letter of complaint on Saturday morning to 88 year old veteran broadcaster Brian Matthew. Murph's not happy that Brian's gone all left field on his 60s show this morning, playing English rock band Led Zeppelin - Murphy prefers a bit of soul and Motown.

I spot a tweet on my timeline by Notts CCC legend bowler Luke Fletcher. Poor old Fletch has got himself in a spot of bother again. He was having a casual chat with radio commentator Dave Bracegirdle, unaware he was 'live on air.' He dropped in a few expletives. I can't wait to see him at an 'Audience with Fletch' at the Southbank Bar on Trent Bridge in a few weeks time.

There's a few things kicking off in our fair city this weekend. Sticky and Murph's favourite Jess Glynn is headlining the Splendour Festival at Wollaton Park, whilst veteran Notts County defender Mike Edwards has a testimonial game versus Nottingham Forest at Meadow Lane.

We're bobbing and weaving down the A1 in the 'Rolls Royce' to ABC's 'Flames of Desire.' Radio 2 are flogging this to death. I've written better lyrics in my tea break. We're soon in the village of Elton, in Cambridgeshire, trying to find a parking spot at the village pub. The Black Horse is mobbed out with folk, who are attending a wedding at the church next door, before the reception in a marquee in the pub back garden.

We order up a couple of hot roast beef sandwiches and a portion of hand-cut chips. The pint of Greene King beer is as weak as a cup of Tetley's tea. The honey-stone beamed dining pub is spot on though. It's only a short drive back down the A1 to the ground.

Yaxley is a village in Cambridgeshire, four miles south of Peterborough. Life's Too Short and Star Wars actor Warwick Davies lives in the area. Yaxley FC were formed in 1962 and are nicknamed the Cuckoos.

The car park is already packed to the rafters. We stick the 'Rolls Royce' into the overflow car park. I clock a Leicester City scout sitting in a battered, old, grey Vauxhall Astra. He'll have come to check on the Tulips' 17 year old sensation Jonny Lockie. "You come to watch Lockie, mate." A startled scout replies: "I'm not at liberty to say who I'm watching." "First rule of scouting pal, never wear your kit." I'm still laughing as I enter a clubhouse bustling with folk.

We grab a couple of cans of Coca Cola and take a seat outside on the patio, basking in the baking sunshine. On the far side of the ground are neatly trimmed conifers. There are some allotments behind the nearest goal, with some scrubland behind the opposite end. There are two seated stands on the clubhouse side of the ground.

I intoduce myself to Spalding United manager Dave Frecklington, whose nephew Lee is captain of Rotherham United. Dave has agreed to support the Parkinson's Disease charity I am raising money for this season.

We're hooking up with my old schoolmate Ackers, he lives just down the road in Whittlesey. In 2004 we visited 107 football grounds in five days for charity. His 7 year old son, Daniel, is attending today's game after serving an 18 month FA ban after repeatedly swinging on a crash barrier at Kings Lynn's ground, despite a steward's wagging finger.

It's not long before 'Dan the Man' is up to mischief again. Health and safety regulations are breached on 10 minutes when Daniel and his twin sister, Rosie, get tangled up in a junior goal net. The plastic goal then tips on top of Daniel. Ackers and I are oblivious to the incident; we're heavily engrossed in the game. Ms Moon races across to assist at the scene of the crime. The PA man shouts out over the microphone: "To the lady with the two children, the goal nets are not toys, please refrain from playing in them." I am in bits, my stomach is aching with laughter. Ms Moon is not amused and gives Ackers daggers.

Spalding are a bit skinny on personnel. Lockie is on holiday in Hong Kong (I've done my homework Leicester). They take the lead through former Lincoln City striker Brad Barraclough. They are pegged back by a 25 yard pile-driver from the Yaxley 8 jacket. The impressive Dan Cotton lashes home a left foot shot and another Yaxley goal is notched again before the break.

The Cuckoos run riot in the second half, Spalding can't cope with the movement or trickery of 'Dot Cotton.' They rack up five, it could easily be a lot more. Barraclough has a brace to his name after a late penalty.

I was going to hang around for a drink with Dave Frecklington, but I guess right now he's steaming and that a dressing down for his players is of the upmost importance.

Man of the Match: The Ackerman's

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Curzon Ashton 1-3 Rochdale XI

I'm chuffed to high heaven with the start we've had with raising money for the Parkinson's Disease charity. I'm donating £1 per goal I see at every new ground this season. Radcliffe Borough chairman Paul Hilton pretended that the score was 14-6 last Saturday v the Trotters and donated £20. What a top man. £76 has been raised during week one.

I'm still ploughing my way through Bill Bryson's 'The Road to Little Dribbling.' Bryson visits the track where Dr Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile. On the morning of the race, Bannister went to work in London, before jumping on a train to Oxford. He then walked two miles to a friend's house where he tucked into a ham salad for lunch. It was his first race in eight months. He collapsed almost unconscious into the tape. Apart from a photographer and a few officials, hardly anyone saw the race.

Tuesday evening is spent in the company of a rather chipper 'Taxman' at Carlton Town's Stoke Lane ground. Notts County, despite fielding the first team in the second period can only bother the scorers once. 20 year old Jack Steggles in the nets for the Millers is different gravy. Mancunian John Sheridan appears very droll.

Murphy Palmer the budgie has been a naughty lad this week. He's sat in my porridge, nicked crumbs off my cobs (Barm cakes to Lancs folk) and pooed on my head. He's sent to bed early, where he head-butts his mirror for the rest of the evening.

Friday lunchtime is spent in the dentist's chair having a tooth refilled whilst Beyonce's 'Single Lady' is blasting out on Lincs FM in the surgery. I gate a couple of the Navigation Brewery's IPA 'Love is the Law' at the Starting Gate in Colwick at tea-time, before retiring to the sofa for some Punk IPA and Portuguese wine. There's an attempted  military coup in Turkey before I hit the sack.

I wake up at the crack dawn singing the lyrics of ABC's new single 'Flames of Desire' - don't ask me, not got a clue, don't even like it. It was a failed military coup in Turkey, with a heavy loss of life. What a desperately sad week it has been. I sort a pub out for Sunday lunch, whilst listening to the brilliant James Blake with Murphy perched on my shoulder. before we set off down Alfreton Road towards the M1.

Sat Nav is trying to nudge us down the Woodhead Pass, but I'm not grin and bearing those long queues of traffic at Mottram. Fern Cotton and Martin Kemp are banging out some good tunes. Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' is the pick of the bunch.We go the long way down the M62, exiting at the Saddleworth Moor junction. We drive through a couple of pretty villages before turning up a tight street and rocking up at The Church Inn at Uppermill, just outside Saddleworth. I love Lancashire's natural beauty, the warmth of the people and their razor-sharp wit.

The pub is a cracker as is the church that dwarfs the hostelry. It has low beams, with prints on the wall and china, brasses and pottery sat on shelves. The girl behind the bar appears disinterested. It's the worst poured beer in history. The head overflows at the top of the glass, dripping down the side. She doesn't wipe it down, it's just plonked on the bar in my general direction - for the record it was a pint of Blonde Obsession from the Grey Hawk brewery. Ms Moon's latte looks like a milk shake gone wrong. A customer complains that his beer is off and asks for it to be changed.

It's only a short drive to Ashton-under-Lyne. A small group of tanked-up 'Dale fans are staggering down the road, swigging from bottles of beer, they can only be 16 or 17, tops. We drive past Ashton Cricket Club, Tameside Cycling Circuit, East Cheshire Harriers and a 3G pitch before entering the Tameside Stadium.

Ashton-under-Lyne has a population of over 40,000 and sits on the River Tame in the foothills of the Pennines. Rich and famous born in the town include:: Britain's first Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, Arthur Brooke, founder of the Brooke Bond Tea Company, singer-songwriter George Formby, Sir Geoff Hurst, Last of the Summer Wine actor Brian Wilde, 'Tracey Barlow' off Corrie, actor Ronald Fraser, cricketers Andrew Harris, Harry Pilling and Gary Yates and the footballers Alan Wright, Steve Wigley and Mark Robins.

We admire a statue of three World Cup winners from the town - Sir Geoff Hurst, Jimmy Armfield and Simone Perrotta. Ironically Sir Geoff's No.10 shirt failed to meet the expected asking price of £500,000 at an auction earlier this week at Sotherby's. Curzon Ashton were formed in 1963. In 1981 jinking, fleet-footed winger Steve Wigley signed for Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest from Curzon.

It's £6 each on the gate and £1 for a decent programme. We're straight into the snack bar for pie and peas at £5 for job lot. A guy taps me on the shoulder and introduces himself as Joe Lawton. The supporters' committee, of which Joe is a member, have agreed to donate to the charity. Joe's a top lad and has followed my blog for some time.

We wait for the teams to spin up as the DJ plays 'Human' by The Killers, before positioning ourselves behind the nearest goal that Rochdale attack. Rochdale have sent out two teams today, with the other playing at Stockport. This one looks stronger on paper - with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Joe Bunney up top. It also includes Callum Camps who was once rated by the Daily Telegraph as one of the top six rising stars outside the Premiership.

The pitch is immaculate. I can't for the life of me remember seeing one in the Non League in better condition than this. At first glance it looks like 4G. The Rochdale 'Baby Squad' (Shandy drinkers) are singing bollocks at the back of the stand on the halfway line. One is completely steam-boated.

'Dale 8 jacket Matty Lund is nailed early doors and has to hobble off. Rochdale take a two goal lead. Former Norwich City forward Ian Henderson threads a defence-splitting pass through to Nathaniel Mendez-Laing who draws the 'keeper before a cool finish. Joe Bunney (brother of Jive) smashes a shot which goes under the 'keeper to make it 2-0. Curzon are plucky though and keep it on the carpet. 20 year old Jordan Wright poses plenty of problems for the visitors with his pace and skill.

We take a seat in the main stand as the Red Hot Chili Peppers ring out from the PA system. There have been a few changes in personnel at the break. Rochdale get sloppy as Curzon peg them back with a goal from the industrious Paul Ennis. The excellent Henderson gifts them a pass which almost  results in an equaliser, but for a fine save from Josh Lillis.

Those drunken Rochdale fans are slumped on the concrete steps behind the goal, as the bar has run dry of Bass shandy. The youngest is in a right 'two and eight.' Rochdale pepper the goal with shots that are skew wiff, almost pole-axing their own supporters.

The referee blows the final whistle. It's been another successful day for the charity with £4 added to the pot.


Man of the Match: Ian Henderson

Monday, July 11, 2016

Radcliffe Borough 0-6 Bolton XI

It's Wednesday July 6th. I'm at full stretch, at the poolside, on a sunbed in the glorious surroundings of the Penina Hotel and Golf Resort, close to the seaside town of Alvor, in the Algarve. I'm racing my way through the autobiography of former Lancashire and England cricketer Graeme Fowler and his struggles with mental health issues.

A guy in a black and tangerine training kit catches the corner of my eye as he chats to hotel staff. Towels are laid out on 15 beds, as a plastic container full of water bottles and energy drinks are wheeled around the pool.

A football team trot down the steps, before peeling off their kit and jumping into the pool to cool off and warm down. I'm taken aback at how young and lean they look. At first glance I thought it was Wolverhampton Wanderers. It's only when I see a chubby, grey-haired chap, sprawled out on a sunbed, with a phone glued to his ear, that I realise that the 'Ugly Dinner Lady' and his Hull City squad are in town for a 10 day training camp - I kid you not, the sun went in and it clouded over when Steve Bruce removed his shirt.

Earlier that morning Ms Moon had clocked a pony-tailed Patrick Mower in the breakfast room. It was the talk of the hotel until Hull City's entourage pitched up a few hours later. Everyone was blanking Mower after that.

We touch down at East Midlands Airport at 10pm on Thursday evening. I'm shitting bricks to be honest. I had one or two many glasses of Port after Portugal turned over Wales and posted on Facebook that I'd bare my bottom on Nottingham Racecourse if Oliver Giroud hit the onion bag for France v Germany in a game that was scheduled to be played the following night, whilst I was airborne. It was a safe bet to be honest; the fool never delivers in the big games. I'm relieved to see that Griezmann has bagged a brace when I switch my phone on at the airport.

Friday is spent catching up on emails after a week away in Portugal. We stroll around Nottingham Racecourse at tea-time, catching our breath for a drinks break at the Starting Gate. We walk back to Colwick up the final straight, having being spared the embarrassment of dropping my shorts due to Giroud's incompetence.

It's Saturday morning and it's been hosing it down with rain all night. I really shouldn't be whittling whether pre-season friendlies may be postponed due to inclement weather in July. I'm driving solo today as Ms Moon is spending time with her daughter before she travels to Australia, whilst Trumpy Bolton is on a tour of duty in West Wales.

I tootle up the M1 in the 'Rolls Royce' who has recently hit 100,000 miles on the clock. Fern Cotton and Martin Kemp have been drafted in for the summer as Graham Norton's replacement on Radio 2 - it's a slight improvement. Radcliffe Borough's brilliant Twitter account has confirmed that ground staff will be monitoring pitch conditions at Taurus Park.

There's a pea souper of a mist on Saddleworth Moor, the area is shrouded in low cloud. I hit the market town of Bury at 1pm. The last time I was here 'The Lincoln' were beaten 2-0. Trumpy and I met Chris Hughton and Five Live sports reporter Peter Slater.

I shoehorn the car into a parking space close to the East Lancashire Central Railway. I glance at the parking tarrifs. The robbing buggers want a minimum £2 to park. I rummage around my pockets and muster up £1.99. It's just my luck that 'Terry the Traffic Warden' is doing a lap of honour around the joint. Fortune is always hiding, in this case it's a 20 pence piece in the footwell.

I run down the steps at Bury/Bolton station and swing open the door of The Trackside pub which is situated on the station platform. An Oakham Citrus ale is settling, so I opt instead for a pint of 1381 from the Wantsum brewery in Canterbury, Kent. The beer is good value at £2.60. I'm ripped off though, as an egg mayo sandwich is £4. I sink my pint as a rattler pulls in from Ramsbottom with 20 thirsty customers alighting the train and piling into the bar.

I make my way to Taurus Park with the game confirmed as being 100% on. Paul Gambaccini is playing Mel and Kim's 1986 hit FLM on Pick of the Pops. Poor old Murphy the Budgie will be getting all irate, as he's just got used to nearly man, Mark Goodier after the unceremonious sacking of Tony Blackburn.

I park on a housing estate and stroll through the blue-painted wrought iron gates. Radcliffe lies in the Irwell Valley and is 2.5 miles south west of Bury. It has a population of 30,000, that was once famous for its paper mills. The local cricket club's former players include the West Indians Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Frank Worrell. Well known custodians of Radcliffe include: three times World Snooker Champion John Spencer and Academy-winning film producer Danny Boyle.

It's a bargain £5 on the gate and £2 for a revamped programme that has been commissioned under the new regime. A couple of questions catch my eye: Who was the leading scorer in the 1966 World Cup finals ? Which England club's postal address is South Africa Road ?

The first thing that strikes me is how long the grass is on the playing surface. Mind you, with all this bloody rain they perhaps haven't had the chance to put the mower on it. On the nearest side of the ground is the clubhouse and changing rooms. There's a stand behind the furthest goal with blue tip up seats. Behind this is a large duck pond where young kids are launching bread into the water.The dug outs are positioned on the furthest touchline with concrete steps leading to blue crash barriers. The ground is neat and tidy and has had a lick of paint and some tender loving care.

Those looming black clouds look bloody menacing as I hook up with a West Lancs groundhopper who is good for an anecdote or two as well as tipping me a few grounds to go to such as 'Little Wembley' at Nelson. He's an ex American Football coach. He tells me a tale how Radcliffe came to sign Craig Dawson who is now a regular for WBA. The lad was a glass collector and played in the same Sunday League team as the son of Bernard Manning Jnr, who is the major shareholder at Borough. Manning took a punt on the lad, the rest is history.

The DJ is an early contender for 'Jock of the Season.' He spins Justin Timberlake, Haddaway and 'Come Home' by James. You're always guaranteed a good tune or two in this neck of the woods.

Poor old Bolton have had it tough. They've tumbled into League One and are looking for stability with the appointment of former Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson. At least Peter Kaye still makes them laugh.

I am donating £1 per goal that I see each Saturday to the Parkinson's Disease charity. Paul Hilton, the Radcliffe Borough Chairman, has very kindly agreed to match my donation. The Trotters have sent two teams of youngsters who will play a half each, Borough are doing the same and have a number of trialists. Borough have a lively start and create a few half chances before Bolton race into a three goal lead, one a peach of a goal from their stand-out player 17 year old Jack Earring.

The DJ is at it again at the break playing 'Dreaming of You' by Merseyside band The Coral. Those black clouds begin to empty, the Rough Trade hoodie is called into action. It's pretty much different teams in the second period, with the same outcome as Bolton bag another three, the third of which is on the final whistle whilst I'm having a pee. I'll still cough up - I can't arf pick em.

Attendance: Quite a lot.

Man of the Match: Lancashire Groundhopper

Quiz answers: Eusebio and QPR

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Summer Time

Grounds to visit 2016/2017: Barnet, Luton Town, Shrewsbury Town, Wrexham, Curzon Ashton, Marine, Ramsbottom United, Whitby Town, Salford City, Lancaster City, Clitheroe, Silsden AFC, Boldmere St Michaels, Bilston Town, Bilsthorpe FC, Harworth Colliery, Guisborough Town, FC United of Manchester, Thackley AFC, Bury Town, Godmanchester Rovers, Colwyn Bay, Runcorn Town, Colne FC, Irlam, Bottesford Town, Atherton Colls, Ashton Athletic, Nelson, Padiham, St Helens Town, Yaxley, Pilkington XXX, AFC Kempson Rovers, Thrapston Town, Biggleswade Town, Bingham Town, Cradley Town, Dudley Sports.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

1874 Northwich 0-1 Colne FC

I can hear the Nottingham racecourse PA announcer calling out the horses names as I slam shut the front door. I jaywalk across Daleside Road, which is clogged up with rush-hour traffic, and head down Racecourse Road towards the Colwick Hall Hotel. I peer through a clearing in the hedge as horses are loaded into the stalls; they're out in a flash.

I chance upon an elderly gentleman sat on a chair at one of the entrance gates, with a snowy white owl perched on his shoulder. Kim is five years old and lives on a diet of one day old chickpeas. I continue my walk, dropping into the Starting Gate, as my thirst needs quenching. I sink a pint of Spring Fever from the St Austell Brewery at £2.57 with CAMRA discount.

I stroll through some woodland as the vista of the grandstand at the racecourse comes back into view. The first horsebox I clock is one of leading flat trainer John Gosden from Newmarket. Three year old fillies are eating up the turf as they gallop up the final furlong in the 6:10pm. John Gosden's Snow Moon has won by three lengths at even money. All the clues were there Sticky - the snow owl, Gosden's horsebox and Ms Moon with her snotty nose, back home, slouched on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle. I should have put my house on it.

It's Saturday morning and I'm having a chinwag with nasty Norwich fan Murphy Palmer the budgie. I took him to the vets last week to get his nails clipped. In the surgery waiting room he was surrounded by dogs whimpering, cats meowing and parrots squawking. Above it all you could hear Murphy whistling the Canaries anthem 'On the Ball City.' It was a different scenario on the operating table. He greeted the veterinary surgeon with a 'Glasgow Kiss' before being grabbed around the neck in a lock, with the vet's first two fingers and with a terrifying look his nails were clipped. He's still traumatized to this day.

We're in the 'Rolls Royce' today - Sticky is piloting. I hare down the A50, through Stoke and onto the A500. Today is the final game of 'our' groundhopping season. We've not missed a Saturday game since July 12th. I've earmarked The Badger at Church Minshull for lunch which is also a Good Pub Guide tick-off. It's a recently refurbished 18th Century coaching inn. I have a pint of Badger from the Tatton Brewery. Co-pilot Ms Moon has Stilton and celery soup accompanied with Beef and horseradish sauce on sour dough. Sticky plumps for Whitby scampi on flatbread.

Winsford is a short 15 minute drive away. 1874 Northwich groundshare with Winsford United at the Barton Stadium. On 15th November 2012 disillusioned fans of the Northwich Victoria Supporters' Trust voted with broken hearts to run a democratically supporters-run club.
Northwich is a town in Cheshire with a population of 20,000. It was once well known for its salt mines. Famous folk born or raised in the town include: The Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess, singer Rupert Holmes (Pina Colada hit is a classic), FA boot 'n run merchant Charles Hughes and goalkeeping cousins Michael and Andy Oakes.

We park up on West Dudley Street, a no through road. A blue-aproned chef from the Phoenix Chinese and English takeaway throws away uneaten bagged-up food into a wheelie bin. The Top House pub is stacked out with beer-swilling Colne fans who are basking in the baking heat.

A draw today is enough for the visitors to clinch the North West Counties League title. We caught them on a dark, miserable day up in Birkenhead. Cammell Laird were ruthless on and off the pitch. Colne were thumped 4-0. They lost all discipline. Three players were shown Red and two coaching staff were ask to leave the technical area. Fair play to manager Stephen Cunningham for fronting it up and apologising on behalf of the club on Facebook. He went up in Sticky and Ms Moon's estimations.

The ground is a belter. It's £6 on the gate and £2 for the programme. On the nearest touchline is a rickety old stand with blue tip-up seats. Behind the far goal is a grassed area making the view at least 30 yards to the goal net. There is cover running along the farthest touchline and an open end behind the nearest goal.

Colne FC manager Steve Cunningham is a clever guy. He allows his team a relaxed warm-up, to relieve the tension. He shakes folks hands, fusses his Mum, acknowledges anyone who wishes him good luck. Ms Moon admires him. Inwardly this guy's stomach is churning. Nine months work rests on one game. Leading scorer Jason Hart is suspended.

One of the Northwich subs complains that he has forgot his suncream. Cunningham strikes up a conversation with some Northwich committee members. He says that he likes 1874 Northwich very much, but won't miss the North West Counties League if they go up. It's said without any malice - just maybe one or two clubs have niggled him.

The pitch is bobbly and bumpy and killing these players. Northwich are direct, Colne don't trust the pitch. Their game is hurried. They snatch at chances as nerves set in. Northwich waste two good chances as neither 'keeper is fully tested. I'm stood next to a Runcorn Town fan who can't abide Runcorn Linnets. If the Linnets score 6 goals at Padiham and Colne lose, then they will be crowned as champions - they're already two the good.

Colne have rocked up with 250 fans. Two of these are different class. Landlords Winsford United have been broken into two days ago. The bar has been trashed and the till smashed to smithereens. They walk circuit after circuit of the ground politely asking for donations to help Winsford. They raise £178 - this is why I watch and support Non League football. It brings a tear to my eye when they announce what these boys have raised.

It's still nip and tuck in the second half. Cunningham sends his troops out early to avoid a claustrophobic changing room. Danny Boyle begins to come alive, as his partner Ben Wharton, a good hold-up player, is well shackled by 1874 centre half Craig Farnworth. Colne's long throws are always speared in too close to the 'keeper who is catching for fun.

The game-changing moment happens on 65 minutes. A boy called Joel Melia is thrown on by Cunningham as Colne go 4-3-3. Cunningham is sweating buckets when he hears Linnets are 3-0 up. Meila's impact is instant. His low sense of gravity and positional sense creates width for the team. He survives a couple of bollockings from Cunningham, but the boy is never say die. I saw him play for Barnoldswick at Tadcaster during a 5-0 drubbing - he has the heart the size of a bucket.

Meilia picks up the ball on the right, he drifts past a defender, muscling him off the ball, before pulling the ball back from the byline. Danny Boyle flicks it up before firing a shot it into the corner of the net, despite the 'keeper's best efforts. The reaction is tear-jerking. Subs, coaching staff and players run to pile on Boyle - the relief to all is breathtaking.

Cunningham instructs the subs and coaches to form a line before the final whistle. The celebrations are wild and ad-hoc. We leave them be. It's not just about today - it's a been a long season.

Attendance: 539

Man of the Match: 1874 Northwich 5 Jacket - brilliant.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Carlisle United 0-2 Oxford United

It's 7:00am on Saturday morning, I'm mooching about the kitchen making a brew. Today I'm ticking off my final Northern professional football league ground. It's 78 out of 92 after a painstaking 40 years of travelling up and down the accident-prone motorways of England.

We leave Murphy the budgie sulking on his perch, waiting with anticipation for his Uncle Brian Matthew and the Sound of the 60s Show on Radio 2. Ms Moon has fuelled-up with a large skinny decaf latte from Costa Coffee, where I'm on first-name terms with all the staff.

The dreaded M6 rears its ugly head with breakdowns and roadworks galore. We're hooking up with Oxford United fan Chris Hepburn, who has very kindly snapped up some tickets for us on the away terrace. Ms Moon and 'Heppers' used to work together as teenagers at Asda in West Bridgford, Nottingham, back in the day. It will be the best part of  30 years since they last met. I'm playing the part of Eamonn Andrews off This is Your Life.

Graham Norton has banged out a couple of good tunes including 'Stop Me' by Mark Ronson featuring Melbourne-born singer Daniel Merriweather. We're heading up Botcher Gate into the city centre. It's a grim part of town with some ugly buildings including a hotel we were supposed to stay in. Ms Moon cancelled the reservation after a flurry of poor reviews on Trip Advisor. It's adjacent to the Sexual Health Clinic - I'm not sure if the two are in a partnership.

The haunting voice of Nick Cave on the radio adds to the depressing surroundings. Professional drinkers clog up the entrance to Wetherspoon watering holes the Woodrow Wilson and the William Rufus, that are situated only a few hundred yards apart. A plethora of retail parks cause traffic congestion. We finally pitch up at the back of the old fire station, before wandering up to the King's Head on Fisher Street.

I shout up a pint of Boltmaker from the Timothy Taylor stable. Ms Moon has soup with a chicken baguette, I opt for a full English fry-up that I hope will keep me going until our evening meal at the Pheasant Inn at Casterton, just outside Kirkby Lonsdale. We take a window seat and peer out into the street. Heppers rocks up after two days of horse racing at Redcar and Musselburgh. He's reunited with Ms Moon, who says the last time she saw him he resembled Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran.

The pub jukey or i-Pod shuffle treats us to the Teardrop Explodes and EMF. Five Star's 'System Addict' results in a mass exodus across the road to the bookies. Heppers is a bundle of nerves as Oxford United stumble across the finishing line. We kill a bit of time at William Hill's. Ms Moon fancies an Oxford and Man Utd double. We park up at a youth centre, a ten minute walk away from Brunton Park.

Carlisle is a city and county town of Cumbria and is located at the confluence of the rivers Eden, Caldew and Petteril. It lies 10 miles south of the Scottish border and has a population of over 70,000 people. Carr's (now United Biscuits) began baking in 1831. I've  always manage to find a half-eaten packet of their water table biscuits in the cupboard, but never have any cheese in the fridge. Production was halted in January 2016 after the factory was flooded. Both the builder John Laing and the haulage company Eddie Stobart have their HQ in the city.

Notable people from Carlisle include: the footballers Kevin Beattie, Grant Holt, Paul Simpson and Matt Jansen, former England rugby captain Steve Borthwick, Woodrow Wilson's Mum, Emmerdale actress Roxanne Pallet and the broadcaster and journalist Melvyn Bragg.

Carlisle United were founded in 1904 and have played at Brunton Park since 1909. Well known ex-players include: Peter Beardsley, Stan Bowles, Matt Jansen and Rory Delap. Notable former managers: Bill Shankly, Nigel Pearson and Bob Stokoe. Record transfer fee paid: Joe Garner £140,000. Record sale: Matt Jansen to Crystal Palace for £1.2 million.

We head down the Warwick Road, past red-bricked Victorian houses with huge bay windows. The Beehive pub is across the road - Northern Crisis are playing there over the weekend. We're directed by a friendly steward to the far side of the ground. It's £16 to stand on the terrace (thanks Chris) and just £2 for a programme. The ground is proper old school. I love the two tier rickety old stand to the right of the away end.

Ms Moon and I viewed Carlisle up at Morecambe a few months back. They didn't turn up for over an hour, but a couple of inspired substitutions turned the game on its head, when they scored two goals in a minute to snatch a game from the jaws of defeat.

Oxford are warming-up at our end. I recognise coaches Chris Allen (ex NFFC) and Derek Fazackerly who followed Kevin Keegan around. They look to have a lot of young uns. It's the business end of the season. They'll need a win to stay with the chasing pack, and will need to do it without leading scorer and Sky Bet Player of the Year Kemar Roofe. The Oxford chairman has shouted up 1000 pints and 1000 pies for the travelling fans at the The Magpie on Victoria Road.

Oxford's manager is highly-rated coach Michael Appleton. He's settling in following a few false starts at crisis clubs Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn. The best warm-up songs are from The Killers and Dario G. £150,000 was spent on this freshly-laid pitch, following the floods. It's now, ironically, being doused with water from sprinklers.

Oxford play a beautiful game from the off. In the fourth minute Danny Hylton sees off the full back before finding Maguire, who is upended for a stone-wall penalty. Maguire keeps a cool head, with hands on hips, his run-up is short, arcing in from right to left, his strike is perfect and finds the inside corner of the net.

Local boy, Callum O'Dowda is running the show. His fleet of foot, change of direction and pace is bamboozling the Cumbrians. Oxford are shanking, scuffing and mistiming good opportunities as a sluggish Carlisle fail to get a grip on the game.

Penrith-born left back Danny Grainger is getting rinsed. He throws the ball like a hand grenade, and takes all the corners and set-pieces. Carlisle manager Keith Curle parades up and down the touchline in Savile Row attire. He's sporting a smoking jacket and beige trousers, fit to wear for a Gentlemen's Evening. His team inch their way back into the game, but find the Oxford rearguard in fine form.

Half-time allows a nervous, ashen-faced Hepburn a couple of toilet breaks as his stomach continues to churn. He turns down offers of hot food and cold drinks, preferring to chew on gum more furiously than Sam Allardyce and Billy Davies.

Carlisle have had a Keith Curle hair-drying at the break. They play with more purpose in the second half.  It's like a cup tie, as the Cumbrians turn the screw. Against the run of play Oxford make it 2-0 with a smart finish from Liam Sercombe, who fires under the 'keeper Gillespie from close range.

At the end of the game an exhausted Oxford team can barely raise their arms to clap the 2238 visiting supporters who have stood on an open terrace that has not been used since the visit from Everton in the FA Cup in late January.

Attendance: 6948

Man of the Match: Callum O'Dowda (and Heppers) xx

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Swanwick Pentrich Road 3-0 Blidworth Welfare

It's a beautiful sunny, spring evening and I'm slouched in a chair in the glorious beer garden of the White Horse with legendary Clifton All-Whites manager and friend to the stars, 'Tosh Turner' who has very kindly shouted up two pints of Shipyard pale ale. We chew the cud as we make the short stroll over the village green, cutting through a snicket and into Elms Park. In the far corner of the park, bowlers are steaming into the crease, full pelt, at pre-season cricket nets. It's my kind of ground, tree-lined and at the hub of the community.

We're not here for cricket, 'the best League in the World' has a match on tonight. The dying embers of the Notts Senior League season has turned into a three horse race for the title. Ruddington Village, one of the front-runners, are taking on inner city team Unity FC - Sticky's favourites. Unity is a project that was set up in 2005 by my good friend, youth worker, Morris Samuels. The project confronted gun and knife crime head-on, in a postcode gang war. Its aim was to unite the Meadows, St Anns and Radford. As Head of Recruitment at Notts County Academy my interest was immediate, and not just for selfish reasons. I love Nottingham and want it to be a safer place to live for everyone.

Morris gives me a big hug as we queue for cup-a-soup and tea at the refreshment bar. Unity are by far the best team I've seen this season in the NSL. They take the lead with a beautifully crafted goal created by former Pies scholar Reece Fyfe ('Rico'). He sets up the winner late in the second half to keep the title race wide open. This boy will play at a far higher level.

Ms Moon is out on Friday evening, Mica Paris (who?) is singing at the Riverbank Bar on Trent Bridge. I'm on one of my solo mini pub-crawls - Billy-no-mates. I amble through Sneinton, past the 'King Billy' (I shed a tear, I usually call in) on Manvers Street and onto Lower Parliament street in Nottingham city centre. I've got my dog-shit coloured shoes on that have knocked the tea ladies dead on my journeys to Non League football grounds in Yorkshire and Lancashire. We've never got on - they're chaffing into the top of my heel, causing a blister. The final slog up Derby Road to the micro-pub The Room With a Brew is a killer.

A knowledgeable landlord eases the pain by talking me through the eight real ales on the bar. Nelson's Oak from Hampshire is amber nectar. I've sunk it and it's gone in the bat of an eyelid. I've been tipped the wink about the Junkyard on Bridlesmith Walk. Tony 'Dogman' McDonald has warned me about the pretentious pricing structure. I pay £4 for 2/3 of a pint of filthy dishwater - I'll be giving this joint a wide-berth from now on.

The solo tour ends in the TBI, who have some cracking ales on, with Rye pale ale being a particular favourite of mine. I wave Ms Moon off to the Mica Paris (who ?) concert and sink another couple, before diving into a chippy for a kebab on the Radcliffe Road. The long trek back home is excruciatingly painful. Those shoes are going to have to go. Quiz question: Who is Mica Paris's cousin ?

Ms Moon presents me with a signed copy of a Mica Paris CD. It's an utter head loss moment, but at least it will come in handy as a coaster for a mug of tea. Facebook confirms that Mr and Mrs Trumpy Bolton are on their way to town to celebrate St George's Day - it's 9:00am. It's just a short journey up the A610 today. On researching the Swanwick area for a decent boozer I chanced upon the village of Heage which sits high up between Belper and Ripley. More astonishingly they have a recently restored a six sail working windmill.

Bloody hell, just our luck, the sails have been dismounted and are laying on the ground, some timber has rotted away, so no flour will be made today. Piers conducts an interesting tour of the mill. Dame Ellen McArthur, born in Whatstandwell, re-opened the windmill in 2011 after it laid in disrepair since 1953. We'll return when it's fully functional and buy some flour from Bakewell's Farmers' Market.

The pub's calling. The Black Boy is only a mile away. It too has recently been renovated. It's slightly disappointing as it seems to be a half-finished project. The Tribute ale is nowt to write home about, tops on taps in the toilets are missing and the hand-drier doesn't work. The homemade food is tip top though. Lambs liver splashed with onion gravy and home-cooked chips is a winner.

There's just time to tick-off another Good Pub Guide entry in the town of Ripley. The place is as dead as a door-nail. The landlord confesses to have just opened up - its 2pm. I have a pint of Barnes Wallis, the bouncing bomb inventor who was born in Ripley. A local in the pub warns us of a speed trap on the road into Swanwick. Ms Moon shoe horns the Vauxhall Mokka into a space in the car park. It's a bargain £3 a piece on the gate and £1 for a programme.

I love this ground. It's high up with sweeping views of the countryside. The only covering is to the right of the clubhouse behind the dugouts. It's adjacent to some allotments. A youth is smashing golf balls into a temporary net he's assembled.

We've arranged to meet Blidworth Colts chairman Roger Parkes. I scouted his lad for the Pies five years ago. Jamie had a career change at 15 years old when big-hearted Academy Manager Mick Leonard put him in touch with some horse-racing connections he had. Jamie is now an apprentice jockey at stables in Newmarket.

It's my third viewing of Blidworth, but they ain't at the races today - eh Roger. They're firing blanks and leaking goals in defence. Swanwick Pentrich are two up at the break, one of the goals is a wind-assisted freak cross from 40 yards out.

Ms Moon is beaming from ear to ear that the coffee at the tea hut is Gold Blend (a Nescafe upgrade and not Birds). I check the score at Meadow Lane, the Pies are 1-1 against Shaun Derry's Cambridge United. His Dad is a lifelong Notts fan who is sat in the away end sharing and feeling his son's anxieties and pain.

It's just not Blidworth's day, they're scuffing shots and shanking clearances. They concede a third goal and are lucky to see their sub not sent off for kicking out at a defender. It's sensible refereeing by Mr S T Sears (Tommy) - an old work colleague of mine from Calverton Colliery, who blows the final whistle thirty seconds later.

Attendance: 14

Man of the Match: Windy Miller

Quiz Answer: Chris Eubank