Friday, February 12, 2016

CD Marino 1-1 UD Cruz Santa

It's 2:55am on Thursday 4th February. A bleary-eyed Sticky Palms rises from his pit, trudges down the stairs and flicks the kettle on. Ms Moon and I are due to fly out to Tenerife from Birmingham Airport at 7:00am, a strong cup of Nescafe Alta Rica is needed.

I click the seat belt in as soon as I board the aircraft. I'm petrified of flying, which is mainly down to problems with my ears. I can't console myself with the Non League Paper to bury my head in, nor a stiff Bombay gin to calm my nerves. I immerse myself in the excellent book 'The Pie at Night' by the broadcaster Stuart Maconie as the plane taxis the runway. Just over four hours later we touchdown on Spanish soil.

Those Spanish baggage handlers don't muck about. I soon spot our suitcase doing a lap of honour on the baggage carousel. We've just got to wait for Ms Moon's bag, which contains all her clothes, and then the holiday can begin. Five minutes later, I suddenly turnaround and notice that all the passengers have dispersed towards the exit signs, where coaches and taxis await their arrival. Ms Moon and I stand alone, staring at an empty conveyor belt in disbelief.

We chance upon a Ryanair customer service representative, her English is about as good as my Spanish. We've already missed the connecting coach to the resort of Los Cristianos. A distraught and inconsolable Ms Moon is hanging around the lost luggage desk. By chance she bumps into the comedian Paul Whitehouse who is collecting a vehicle from Hertz Car Rental. If I had a sense of humour I'd approach him to see if he could wing a bit of Aviva Insurance for us for the lost baggage. But those bungling fools at Ryanair have already put a damper on the day.

I blow a gasket with the Ryanair rep, departing with flailing arms before jumping in a taxi and checking into our hotel. There's no point in returning to the hotel to change for the evening session, so we trawl the bars and restaurants of Playa de las Americas on an old-fashioned pub crawl. I awake the next day with a delicate and fuzzy head. I'm 52 years old today. I unwrap a few presents which include CAMRA membership, which will come in handy now that I live in Nottingham.

Through my drunken haze I remember pointing out a poster in a bar overlooking the marina in Los Cristianos that was advertising a Division 12 game in the Canary League that kicks off this evening at 9pm. Ms Moon buys me a new Olly Murs straw hat as a treat for my birthday, after I have strutted the catwalk in every hat shop in town.

We watch a jaw-dropping sunset, whilst drinking cocktails, in a funky beach-side bar. The taxi drops us outside the Columbus Hotel opposite two football grounds. It's the HQ for White Van Man and Bruiser on their frequent sojourns to 'the Reef.' A youth game is taking place on a 4G surface. I race up the stairs to see a free kick floating into the top corner of the net. Sticky P doesn't do 3G or 4G. He never will.

We wander through a ropey area of town before climbing the steps up to Linekers Bar. It's not my bag to be honest. I couldn't give a toss about the feuding brothers. I mention to the lass behind the bar that it's a bit quiet in here. "We've just opened up, Love."

I fancy a gleg at the pre-match build up. We pay 8 Euros each at the ticket office. I'm drawn to a lady who is selling club merchandise set up on a trestle table. We buy a mug, T-Shirt and baseball cap for less than 20 Euros. The lady is charming and extremely helpful. We purchase a couple of raffle tickets for two Euros. I ring Finley the rabbit back in the UK for a score prediction. It's past his bedtime, he's none too chuffed. "0-0" he says, before the line goes dead.

The ground isn't anything special. I had others lined-up in the south of the island, but they were all away from home this weekend. The eight lane running track in the municipal sport stadium reminds me of Grantham Town. Some obsessive groundhopper with a loud mouth from Manchester tries to explain the League structure to me. I switch off to be honest.

I get chatting to a man and wife who are Northern Ireland fans. They are both sporting the blue away strip, and are looking forward to Euro 2016 in the summer. We grab a beer and plonk ourselves on top of a concrete step that gives you a panoramic view of the ground and resort.

Tenerife is the largest of the seven Canary Islands. It has a population of 900,000. Five million tourists visit each year. The volcano Mount Teide is the third largest on the planet. The worst commercial aviation accident in history happened on the March 27th 1977 when two Boeing 747 planes collided in fog as thick as pea soup on the runway at the airport in the north of the island. 583 people lost their lives that day. According to wikipedia it was due to a catalogue of errors and misfortune.

On a brighter note, Chelsea winger Pedro was born in Tenerife's largest city, Santa Cruz. His youth career was spent at local club San Isidro. He was spotted and snapped up by La Liga giants Barcelona. A sell on clause in his contact provided his local team a £320,000 windfall last summer when Chelsea shelled out £23 million for the winger.

The game is as I expected it to be. The tempo is snail's pace. Any slight contact between players and suddenly you hear the loud shrill of the referee's whistle, followed by the wave of a yellow card. Steve Bruce and Larry Lloyd would spend the entire season in front of the Spanish FA. The play-acting of the visiting team beggars belief, particularly after they have taken the lead against the run of play.

We've had bugger all to eat since breakfast and have sunk a boatload of ale. A beaming Mooney returns from the bar clutching a hot chicken baguette wrapped in tinfoil. The second half is no better. CD Marino grab a deserved equaliser, and could easily have gone on to win the game as their left back time and time again pushes the ball past his opponent before producing wicked crosses that flash across the six yard box, with no one having the inclination or energy to meet the ball.

We've a Cockney sat behind us with a voice like a foghorn. He commentates on the game and keeps shouting 'Come on Mourinho.' He has a raucous laugh and thinks his gag is hilarious. The small gathering of Brits are embarrassed for the bloke.

The referee finally calls time on this dull affair. He'll spend most of the evening writing his match report after brandishing 10 yellow cards - there's not been one bad tackle all evening.

Man of the Match: Manuel, the left back (Hope Billy Davies had a scout there)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lichfield City 1-1 Pershore Town

I don't fancy the hard slog back to the Trent Bridge Inn. The soles of my feet are in wrack and ruin. The Taxman kindly whisks me up the Radcliffe Road from Regatta Way, to the TBI. I hunch over the bar whilst slurping on a beautiful golden ale. I'm still seething about the 'no-show' from Clifton at West Bridgford.

AFC Wimbledon fans pile into the pub. They have smiles on their faces wider than the River Trent. They've turned over the Pies 2-0. They ask what I thought about the game. I reply that if Notts Clownty were playing in my back garden, I'd shut the curtains. Sticky won't be going to Meadow Lane until Ray Trew sells up. I'm in such a bad mood that even Murphy the budgie and his out of tune whistling, throughout BBC1's The Voice, can't cheer me up. is a tosspot, anyway. Clifton manager James Turner is drowning his sorrows and licking his wounds in the Stratford Haven.

It's Thursday evening. I'm in the 'Rolls Royce.' It's blowing a gale outside, and sheeting it down with rain. 'The Skipper' is riding shotgun. Tonight he has his first Under 19 game for two months. Worksop Town are the opponents. The old mining town of Shirebrook is the venue for the HKL Floodlit League game. Elephant Man actor, John Hurt, was born here, as was Colin Tarrant, 'Inspector Monroe' in The Bill. 1966 World Cup winning England full back Ray Wilson completes a trio of notable people from the area.

It's a bleak old night. Shirebrook Town's Langwith Road ground is perched on top of a hill, and is open to all the elements. I only help out, I'm not really interested in coaching any more. I've had my bag of that, although managing a Non League team for one year only appeals to me. It's on my wish-list of things to do before I bite the dust.

The boys are going to be ring rusty. It's important that 'The Skipper' wins the toss, as the gale sweeps up the hill. Joe has previous for losing crucial tosses in adverse weather conditions. The fool calls heads, we kick into the wind. The game as a contest is over at half-time. Clifton are three to the good.

The champagne moment of the evening happens with ten minutes remaining. Joe plays a holding midfield role, rarely venturing over the halfway line. He picks up a loose ball from 30 yards out and strikes the ball with such ferocity that the 'keeper hardly moves as it loops over him, rippling the roof of the net. There's no wild celebration or fuss made. He just walks back to his mark.

Friday can't arrive quick enough. I land a nice order just before close of play. I accompany Ms Moon to Enterprise Car Hire, in Colwick. She swaps her Renault for a shiny new Vauxhall Insignia. We'll give it a road test to Lichfield tomorrow. We jump on a bus into town, where we down a couple of drinks in the Bear and Lace on Maid Marian Way. Next week will see the blog make its debut on the Spanish island of Tenerife. I'll be dusting down the Olly Murs straw boater for this one. 

Murphy Palmer is restless on Saturday morning. He's walking the plank whilst listening to Dionne Warwick's 'Walk on By' on Brian Matthew's show. I crank it up a notch by playing The Stranglers 1978 version. Jean Jacques Burnel is in fine form on the bass. I saw them in their pomp at Rock City in 1981. Lead singer Hugh Cornwell threatened to walk off stage unless fans stopped spitting. Burnel's patience wore thin, he karate-kicked a punter full on in the chops.

I grab a coffee and croissant, West Bridgford style, as Ms Moon catches up on Emmerdale Farm. Amos pours Seth a pint of real ale. The shiny white Insignia is soon making its groundhopping debut. We're parked up in Lichfield city centre before midday. First port of call is the Kitchen Shop where Ms Moon very kindly buys me a 'top of the range' wine glass for £4.95. We stroll into the old town, I gaze and admire the 600 year old cathedral which is basking in the winter sunshine. I say a little prayer for my team Lincoln City - we haven't won in 11 games.

I've lined up the Horse and Jockey on Tamworth Road. It's a Good Pub Guide entry, which has recently had rave reviews on Trip Advisor. It doesn't fail to disappoint. Our waiter, Jake, is different gravy - he can even make the stuff. I have homemade steak and ale pie with a standard pint of Harvest Pale Ale. Ms Moon's fish melts in your mouth. Jake receives a generous tip for his outstanding customer service. The music ain't bad either, with 'He's the Greatest Dancer' by Sister Sledge being the pick of the bunch.

Lichfield is a cathedral city in Staffordshire with a population of just over 30,000. The poet Samuel Johnson was born here, as was one of Trumpy Bolton's favourite DJs, Radio 2's Richard Allinson. Lichfield City's Brownsfield Park is only a short drive away. It's £4 each on the gate and £1 for a programme that falls apart through an absence of staples.

We immediately come across Daisy the dog - I've no idea what pedigree she is. Apparently she got the hump when her owners tried to put her winter coat on - she won't be complaining now though, it's blooming freezing. I tell her it's important to keep warm - "Sticky's got his Tog 24 Parka and beanie hat on", I say, as she tries to wee down my leg.

The ground is decent enough, with ample cover. It's our second look at Lichfield, having seen them give Pelsall Villa a good old gubbing in the autumn. They are managed by former Lincoln City and Kidderminster Harriers striker Gary Birch. The dreaded referees' assessor is on site. The young ref nervously makes small talk with him.

A text comes through from Clifton All Whites manager James Turner who is on weekend leave in the Emerald Isles. He confirms that Joe Palmer will make his first senior start for a club that has produced the likes of Jermaine Jenas and Darren Huckerby.

As we stroll around the ground Ms Moon points out a memorial tucked away in the corner of the ground up a grass bank. Philip 'Woppa' Latham tragically lost his life to Motor Neurone Disease at the age of 45 years old. He was a husband and a father.

The sad story preys on my mind as the game kicks off. Lichfield are well on top in the opening exchanges. It's utter tripe in the first half. Lichfield over-hit crosses, free-kicks and passes. Pershore's centre half has 'Big Tony' in his pocket, whilst 10 jacket looks like he can't be bothered. The visitors are forced into an early substitution. Former Nottingham Forest full back Viv Anderson replaces the right back - well it looks like him. Half-time can't come quick enough. The highlight of the first 45 minutes is when I bang my knee on a concrete post, which brings tears to my eyes.

Ms Moon waits for an eternity for a bottle of water in a busy bar. I grab a quick word with the assessor, and remark that I think the young ref has done well. He nods in agreement. I do find these guys somewhat socially awkward and secretive at times.

This game has 0-0 written all over it. The last time I saw one of those was at Hinckley four years ago. Andre Gray missed four one on ones that night. He signed for Burnley in the summer for a deal expected to be worth £9 million. Another one Notts Clownty could have signed for £10k.

The game picks up in the second half. 'Big Tony' shakes off his marker before rounding the 'keeper and rolling the ball into an empty net. It's totally against the run of play. The visitor's dreadlocked striker couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo. He's run his socks off all game, though as soon as he is subbed  Pershore restore parity with a fully deserved goal, albeit a scruffy one.

It's end-to-end before the final whistle is blown. Lichfield can consider themselves a shade fortunate to have picked up a point.

Man of the Match: 'Viv Anderson

Attendance: 81

Sunday, January 24, 2016

West Bridgford 2 -1 Clifton All Whites

I wake up to the news on Saturday morning that Boston in Lincolnshire is the murderous capital of Britain. Gainsborough Trinity manager, Steve Housham, is lucky that he didn't become the latest victim of a Boston Lynch mob. Following an ill-tempered 1-0 defeat to the Pilgrims, he told a Radio Lincolnshire reporter: "the only thing to be scared about going to Boston is coming out with the same amount of fingers that you went in with." Ouch!

I trudge down the stairs and into the kitchen. I'm still dead to the world after the longest Friday ever. I was up and out the house for just after 5:00am for a meeting in Rochdale. Late in the afternoon I sloped off to a wedding reception in the Hemlock Stone in Wollaton. My old boss got hitched. He's the best gaffer I've ever worked for in the business. It was a small gathering, and I felt privileged to be invited.

I pegged it from the pub onto Derby Rd, where I jumped on a bus to Maid Marian Way. I traipsed across town to the KFC on Daleside Road, the artist previously known as the Magpie pub. I'm not sure who was more stupid, the customers or the staff. Ms Moon and I shared a KFC moonlit supper before hitting the sack.

Murphy Palmer, the budgie, is swinging on his perch to the 'Animal Magic' theme tune on the Brian Matthew 60s Show. I tell him how funny it was when Johnny Morris, the zookeeper, used to talk to and feed the penguins, fish each week. Murphy has a little chuckle. I daren't tell him that Norwich are playing Liverpool today.

It's been a hell of a week. I've been up in Glasgow. I declined a stay-over in East Kilbride. My boss text me later to tell me East Kilbride had won their 4th round Scottish Cup match, and that they would now entertain the mighty Celtic in the next round. Their ground capacity is 500.

Thursday evening was spent at The City Ground. Nottingham Forest U18s entertained Birmingham City in the FA Youth cup. It was a fairly dour and unimaginative fayre dished up. The Reds deservedly won 1-0. Former legendary Dunkirk manager 'Uppo' points out Cyrille Regis sitting in the Main Stand. There are more agents here than you would see in a Bond film.

I've decided to be a West Bridgford person for the day. It's a leafy, affluent suburb to the south of Nottingham city centre, where the jet set live. It is nicknamed Bread 'n Lard Island, in the belief that its inhabitants spend most of their money on big houses and fur coats, so they can only afford to eat bread and lard behind closed doors. It's the land of ciabatta, champagne and tapas. Famous residents past and present include: former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, cricketer Stuart Broad and Crackerjack host Leslie Crowther.

I'm not a big fan of The Avenue to be honest, but have decided to throw myself into its culture for the day. I stroll down Daleside Road (I've cheated already, as I have no large, shiny 4x4). As I turn onto Meadow Lane, I notice a bloke remonstrating with a traffic warden outside the Cattle Market about a parking ticket. A dismissive hand waves him away back to his black Land Rover. Further down the road the smell of burger and fried onions wafts in the slight breeze from a van opposite Notts Clownty's ground.

Bright sunshine shimmers on the still waters of the River Trent as I cross the bridge. The 'world renowned' Trent Bridge Inn sits on the corner of the Radcliffe Road. It is the most expensive Wetherspoons in the United Kingdom. Sticky P held his 21st birthday party there in 1985. 'The Lincoln' held D***y County 0-0 the following day. Floodlight pylons from Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club tower above the pub. It's the third oldest Test venue in the world.

I turn left onto Bridgford Road and walk past the Parr Stand. In 1976 I saw 6' 5" tall Tony Greig take a brilliant catch on the boundary rope in front of the old stand to dismiss Viv Richards for a swashbuckling 232.

I clock the Stratford Haven Pub close to the Co-op. It took the original licensee Chris Holmes five years to be awarded a license for this real ale establishment, it was previously a pet shop. My father opened that pub. West Bridgford was mostly owned by the Musters family, who I presume were methodist, which would account for the lack of public houses in the area. I remember Harvey's Bar, a nightspot on Musters Road. Even they managed to get its licence revoked, before finally being shunted out to the greyhound track in Colwick.

Things have changed, pretentious bars have sprung up, as have many eateries. It's the coffee capital of the county. Tee-total 'Wee Billy Davies' and his entourage would often embrace the coffee culture. They had a season ticket for Caffe Nero. I nip in the library to see if any of Dad's book are in. The Farmers' Market is on. I buy some cheese and olives. A man is playing an accordion outside Greggs. Kenneth Clarke will have him moved on soon. Cyclists relax in the sunshine outside Copper cafe on the strip.

No visit would be complete without dropping into the Marks and Spencer food hall. You can't move for fur coats in the aisles. I start to think about the big game. Clifton manager James 'Tosh' Turner and his squad will be tucking into a full fry-up in a greasy spoon on Ruddington High Street. It will be Costa Coffee and a croissant for Chris Marks and the Bridgford boys.

Ms Moon kindly drives me over to Wollaton to pick the 'Rolls Royce' up. We have a fish finger sandwich at the nearby Wollaton Arms. I wash it down with a Harvest Pale Ale. I'm soon repeating this morning's walk, as I head down to Regatta Way. I cross Lady Bay Bridge. The road is gridlocked due to an accident at the traffic lights. I'm fagged out as I part with £3 at the gate, and £1 for a very good programme.

I sit in the Tom Maccabee Stand. It's named in the memory of a former Colts player who tragically died in a car accident in Malaysia at the age of 22 years old, whilst working for a cancer charity.

I catch up with 'The Taxman.' We were only here a few weeks ago for a cup game. Unity FC were the visitors. The game should have been out of sight by half time, as Unity fluffed chance after chance, including a missed penalty. They were reduced to ten men after a fantastic goal-line save by a defender. Bridgford went on to win 1-0 that night. Today they look stronger on paper, and make two changes, with Wayne Jones and Jay Kirby returning to the team.

Clifton have a star-studded strike-force, including former Doncaster Rovers striker, 35 year old Tristam Whitman and the well-travelled Darryl Thomas. Sticky is a fan of  'Tank' as he mentors my youngest lad, who is on the bench today, following a couple of cameo appearances.

West Bridgford sit 11 points clear of the chasing pack. All-Whites have a couple of games in hand. They have underperformed and underachieved this season. They are still in the stalls as Bridgford are 'on it' from the off. 'Jonah' crunches in the tackle, and drives forward with purpose. It's one way traffic as the NSL photographer wanders towards us and the end Clifton are attacking. "What's the score mate?" he enquires "0-0 pal, but I'd camp out behind the other goal if I was you."

I'm chatting with South Normanton groundhopper Scott Ward and Real United coach Chris Galley. The Taxman coughs up that he hasn't paid to get in. OAPs and U16s are in for free. Despite Bridgford's dominance, they create very little in the final third. Clifton aren't at the races. Assistant manager Steve Hardie has sparked up more tabs than the chain-smoking Argentinian manager Cesar Menotti. At this rate I'm going to have to shoot off up to the Co-op to get him 10 Gold Leaf and a box of Swan Vesta.

Tea is served briskly at the bar by a number of very well drilled volunteers. I'm starting to warm to this club and the team spirit it generates.We stand nearer to the goal that Clifton attack. Despite their disappointing performance, I fancy them to bag a goal. It duly arrives on 55 minutes. A superb cross is pinged in from the left by Price, Sticky's hero, Jake Richardson rises to meet it with a bullet header that ripples the net. It settles them down for 10 minutes, as a punch drunk Bridgford recover from the blow.

All Whites can't get a second that would put the game to bed. Bridgford don't know when they're beaten, as they all pull together. Back they come again with Jones and Ryan Mart having a stranglehold on the midfield. Jones' lung-bursting runs are a feature of the second half. Substitute Westcarr's deflected effort loops over former Nottingham Forest 'keeper Ben Gathercole and into the net. The winner, they so richly deserve, comes late in the game, when a ball from the right finds leading scorer Jurgen Charlesworth in acres of space. He thumps home the ball to scenes of pandemonium on and off the pitch.

Referee Mick Leslie has let the game flow, but has missed many a late tackle. Clifton focus on him, rather than the game. They become ill-disciplined. They moan about offside decisions and penalty claims not going their way. The finger of blame should be squarely pointed at their own inept performance. Bridgford have energy, passion and desire.

I can see Tosh is upset at the final whistle. He approaches the referee to ask for an explanation for a penalty not being given. He shows a touch of class as he turns away disconsolately to shake the hand of a jubilant Bridgford player. "you were the better team, and deserved to win", he says.

Man of the Match: Patrick Newsome

Attendance: 180

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Stockport County 1-1 Nuneaton Town

In a moment of spontaneity, we decide to spend the weekend in Manchester. Hotels are as cheap as chips at this time of year. Ms Moon, following extensive research on the Web (during Death in Paradise) books us in at the Holiday Inn on Oxford Road for a bargain price of £68, including breakfast. We let the Friday morning rush-hour traffic fizzle out, before hurtling down the A50 and up M6 towards Manchester. I'm sick to the back teeth of this road, having spent two days this week up in Chester, Lancaster and Ulverston - the birthplace of the English comic Stan Laurel.

Sticky P kicks Ms Moon's butt at Ken Bruce's Pop Master on Radio 2. I amass 30 points, smashing my personal best. A huge row errupts as Sat Nav and Ms Moon have a wobble in failed attempts in finding the hotel car park.

Ceasefire papers are signed. We're soon sinking a few drinks at a number of top notch hostelries in the city centre including: Sinclair's Oyster Bar, Ape and Apple, Knott and Oast House. We dine in the evening at the wonderful Italian restaurant Don Giovanni, where we are made so welcome by Enzo, the manager for the last 20 years. We wash the meal down with more real ales and Manchester music on the jukebox at the Peverill of Peak.

The hotel room is freezing, despite the air con throwing out hot air. My teeth are still chattering at the breakfast table as I crunch on my toast and jam whilst watching the awful scenes unravel in Burkina Faso. The journey to Stockport town centre is a short and uneventful. I leave Ms Moon to spark up a cigarette, as I run up the stairs into Stockport Library. I browse the 'Crime Fiction' section to see if any of my late father's detective thrillers are on the shelves - sadly they're not. We head out of town. Ms Moon's Uggs traipse through a puddle of vomit that covers the pavement. I would say the guilty party had Coronation chicken for supper.

Stockport lies 7 miles south east of Manchester. It has a population of 136,000 and sits on the river Mersey. I admire the Stockport Viaduct, which was built in 1840, and has 27 arches. It often featured in the background of L.S. Lowry paintings. Famous celebrities from the area include: TV presenter Tess Daly, footballers Tom Ince, Adam Le Fondre and Paul Warhurst, Carry On star Peter Butterworth, ABC lead singer Martin Fry, boxer Ricky Hatton, antiques expert David Dickinson, Wimbledon champion Fred Perry, and my lad's favourite, Michelle Keegan. Robinsons Brewery is situated in the town. Dizzy Blonde is Sticky P's favourite tipple.

We cross a busy main road, before entering the Crown, an open plan Victorian pub, with stylish decor. I enjoy a pint of 'Alchemist' pale ale. According to twitter Broad and Stokes are holding a 'swing clinic' at the Wanderers as South Africa collapse to 55-7. I engage in conversation with a Stockport fan who is propping up the bar. I josh with him that recently sacked manager Neil Young farmed out Hatters' striker Kristian Dennis on loan to Macclesfield Town without a return clause - he currently tops the scoring charts with 20 goals for the season.

I bag a smart pair of grey Levi jeans on the precinct. They'll knock the tea ladies and barmaids of Non League football dead, when they're giving their first outing in the posh suburb of West Bridgford, Notts next weekend. Edgeley Park is only a short distance away. I squeeze the car into a space on a street close by. It's the worst piece of reversing since the Italian Army in World War Two.

Stockport County were formed in 1883 as Heaton Norris Rovers. They are nicknamed the Hatters after the once famous hat-making industry that employed so many folk in the town. Ground capacity is 10,841. Well known managers from the past include: The Uruguayan Danny Bergera, a trailblazer for foreign coaches to come, Champions League winner Dietmar Hamann, the gum-chewing Gary Megson, Dave Jones, Sammy McIlroy and Carlton Palmer. Record transfer fee received was £1.8 million from Middlesbrough for Alun Armstrong. Record transfer fee shelled out was £800,000 for Ian Moore from Nottingham Forest. The Club have recently fallen on hard times. Through mismanagement they somehow find themselves in the National North League, plying their trade against the likes of Boston United and Gainsborough Trinity.

The ground is close to red-bricked terraced streets, it has an old school feel about the place. I buy two tickets at a window for the Danny Bergera Stand. They're £15 a pop; extortionate for the level of football we will be seeing. The programme, at £3, is informative and full of content.

Premium steak pies, peas and gravy are £3.50 each. A disinterested youth behind the counter says there isn't any mint sauce or vinegar. The ground is a little belter. It's unrecognisable from my previous visit over 30 years ago with 'The Lincoln.' I remember Imps' manager Colin Murphy wearing a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap, complete with cape, checked baggy trousers and boots.

Nuneaton are managed by former Chelsea and D**y County striker Kevin Wilson. He is assisted by Steve Chettle. Wilson has an eye for a player. He sold on many from his previous club, Ilkeston FC. One of them, Che Adams, who has scored for fun at Bramall Lane is being courted by a host of Premiership clubs.

Having winced at the pre-match music, which includes Take That and Shania Twain, events take a turn for the worse when the teams walk out to 'Snoopy Vs the Red Baron.'  The PA guy announces that it's a no smoking stadium - Ms Moon has a face like she's just sucked on a lemon.

The Hatters look short on confidence. Club legend, Mike Flynn, who made over 450 appearances for Stockport, has been installed as caretaker-manager.  Ray Wilkins would slot in nicely into their midfield with it's crab-like sideways movement. The visitors pump the ball forward early to their big unit, Rob Duffy, who has excellent hold-up skills. Their 'keeper, Jordan Smith, is pinpoint with his kicking. A silly free kick is given away, it's pumped high into the box, Duffy's header loops over a stranded 21 year old debutant 'keeper, and trickles into the net.

Nuneaton remain on top, with Morgan and Byrne dominant in midfield. Callum Chettle, son of Steve, has caught my eye. He has a trick or two, some pace too, but is a little shy in the tackle.

Half time entertainment sees a supporter ping a ball onto the crossbar twice in succession to win £100 worth of vouchers for Frankie and Benny's. There's a wonderful spirit about Stockport County. Nearly 3000 people have come through the gate.

Nuneaton are going through the motions in the second half, as they try to stitch up the game. There are a flurry of substitutions, one of which is a game-changer. Wilson removes Duffy from the attack and throws on comedy genius Marlon Harewood - once of the parish of Nottingham. Marlon is now a 'Bespoke Vehicle Provider.' He still has the touch of a baby elephant and the football brain of a headless chicken.

Suddenly the ball stops sticking, now Duffy is gone. Stockport get on the ball and pass with purpose. On loan Everton striker Delial Brewster races onto a through ball, rounds Jordan Smith, and fires home the equaliser. Nuneaton look shaken, but manage to hang on for a draw, despite dominating possession for most of the game.

Man of the Match: Rob Duffy

Attendance: 2823

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cleethorpes Town 2-1 Alvechurch FC

It's 9pm on Thursday evening. I've got my head buried in a book. It's called 'Animal QC' by Gary Bell, who grew up in the coal-mining village of Cotgrave in Notts. He went from being a football hooligan and homeless to become part of the Bar and Queen's Counsel. It's a terrific read.

I become distracted from the book by the sound of a Ska band striking up. A saxophone belts out the theme tune. The guitar and drums get my feet tapping. Murphy the budgie is whistling his little head off. I peer over the top of my book. Hang on a minute, I recognise this song. Surely not. It can't be. Yes, it is Death in Paradise, our favourite cop show. We sulked and skulked about the place last year when Camille our Caribbean Queen was sent on a secondment to Paris, and left the shores in a teary farewell. It's great to see DI Humphrey, Dwayne and JP Hooper back on the scene. They soon have another murder mopped up and solved within the hour.

I've had my fill of football over Christmas. Since the Harrowby United game, we've also taken in Heanor Town and their glorious juicy meat pies and Alfreton Town, with their superb old school North Street ground.

It's Wednesday morning 7:00am and I'm already by-passing the market town of Hereford, as I head to Merthyr Tydfil, in South Wales for a business meeting. Rivers have burst their banks. I fancied watching FA Vase hot favourites, the Bulls, who entertain Leicester Nirvana from my neck of the woods. The forecast in the west is for another deluge of rain. Hereford report that the pitch is fine. Sticky's no risk-taker. I decide instead we'll to head to the drier regions of eastern England.

I'm chatting with Ms Moon in Nottingham's Bear and Lace bar on Maid Marion Way. I'm necking a pint of Harvest Pale Ale, as I pore over a decision on whereabouts to go tomorrow. After a couple of cans of Grolsch, at home, I decide to set up base camp at the Dambusters Inn, at Scampton in Lincs. If Cleethorpes is hosed off, I've got Gainsborough Trinity and Lincoln City in the back pocket.

We're on the A46 heading towards Newark before 11:00am. I've already had Marmite on crumpets for brekky. The greedy little sod, Murphy, has smashed his way through half a honey bar. I only hooked up the flipping thing in his cage last night.

Song of the day, on the Graham Norton show is Hazel O'Connor's 1980 smash hit, 'Will You.' I saw her support The Stranglers at Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall around that time. It makes up for hearing the full version of 'Earth Song' by Michael Jackson on Ken Bruce earlier in the week. I've written better lyrics in my tea break.

Bloody hell, the Dambusters Inn isn't open yet. I feel like one of those professional drinkers, eg, Trumpy Bolton, who wait for Wetherspoons to open early doors in the morning. Greg, the landlord, finally unbolts the front door at bang on midday. I tuck into scampi and chips and a pint of Bosbury bitter from the Ossett Brewery. The pub is a hidden gem, and filled with RAF memorabilia from World War II.

Cleethorpes Town's brilliant twitter feed confirms that the pitch has passed an inspection. We're soon rolling up in neighbouring Grimsby. Ms Moon has one of her daft ideas and swings into Weelsby Woods Park. The paths are caked in mud, and so are my favourite dog shit coloured shoes now. A couple of old blokes are metal detecting. They dig up the earth whilst wearing headphones. They'll be no old Roman treasure here, just a couple of empty tins of Carlsberg Special Brew.

We about turn and shoot off up the road to the Spar shop, in the village of Bradley, to snaffle up a couple of Lotto tickets. Back in 1998 Grimsby sheet metal worker Roy Gibrey won £7,500,000. It could be an omen readers. Cleethorpes is in North-East Lincolnshire and lies on the Humber Estuary. It has a population just shy of 40,000. Famous people from the town include actresses Michele Dotrice, (Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em) Patricia Hodge, (Miranda) golfer Stephen Bennett and the footballer Christian Hargreaves (read his autobiography 'Where's Your Caravan' - it's superb). Finally, after an age, we pitch up at the Bradley Community Stadium, which is heaving with folk, so much so, that they've already ran out of programmes, as we pay £5 each on the turnstile. I've a bit of a soft spot for Cleethorpes Town, having watched them four times over the last two seasons.

We grab a couple of hot drinks from a crammed clubhouse. Cleethorpes chairman, David Patterson, has asked me to introduce myself on arrival. I leave him be, on his big day. Alvechurch, from the West Midlands, are well represented. It's their dugout that we stand adjacent to. The visitors are quick out of the stalls, catching out an off-colour Cleethorpes as early as the 2nd minute. The Owls are caught out with too many men forward on the counter-attack, Josh March spins his defender and races clear before dinking the ball over the advancing 'keeper and into the net. The Alvechurch fans race up and down the concrete concourse in wild celebrations.

23 year old Alvechurch midfielder, Jack Cresswell - a David Ginola lookalike - is running the show. He takes set pieces with either foot. He can cushion a ball and pick a pass. His colleague further up top, Karl Edwards ('Banger'), ploughs a lone furrow, and runs his socks off.

Cleethorpes are not at the races, and are getting footballed and bullied off the park, as Alvechurch look for a second goal, which never seems far away. The referee keeps a lid on it, as the tackles fly in. The Owls' assistant manager has a good old moan at the ref as he walks off at the break. Blame should be firmly laid with the eleven on the pitch, and their under par performance. Their manager Marcus Newell will be plugging in his 500 watt hairdryer for his half-time team talk, as his temper remains on simmer during a ghastly first half for the Owls.

The Owls rediscover their zest for the beautiful game in an awesome second half display. Sticky P and Ms Moon love 11 jacket Jon Oglesby; we've seen him before. In a tactical masterstroke by Newell, he is moved over to the right hand flank where he wreaks havoc.

The game turns on its head on the hour. Alvechurch take their eye off the ball and the game. A silly scuffle breaks out which spills over into their technical area, where the cast of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels are standing (despite the fourth official being only yards away). The ball is pumped forward and crossed in where Jon Oglesby superbly strikes a right footed shot into the bottom corner of the net.

Alvechurch are reeling and on the ropes. It's the first goal they have conceded since Nov 21st. The second comes four minutes later. A cross from Oglesby finds Trott, who has all the time in the world to plant his shot into the net. Everyone runs to the bench, it's a beautiful moment as the whole squad jump on one another. What a turnaround. They looked dead in the water at the break. A simple tactical switch has been a game-changer.

The Owls waste further chances to finish off Alvechurch. The final whistle arrives. They have thoroughly deserved the victory. They've dug deep into their reserves and have shown heart and soul to come back from the dead. I pine for an away tie in the draw on Monday, so we can watch them again.

I exit the ground whilst chatting to Alvechurch director Dougie Griffiths. He's a lovely bloke, and so disappointed to see his team bow out of the Vase today.

NB: Match abandoned at Hereford at half-time. The Bulls were 3-1 up. Leicester Nirvana missed a penalty and hit the woodwork. Stick with me, coz I can't arf pick em.

Man of the Match: Luke Mascall (superb throughout)

Attendance: 252

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Harrowby United 3-1 Sleaford Town

It's been a strange Christmas for me, although I have welcomed the break from work. I ate out for the first time ever on Christmas Day. The Riverbank on Trent Bridge, Nottingham was the venue (the Town Arms or Aviary in old money). It sits between Forest and County's ground, for those not acquainted with the area. Away fans usually frequent the joint. I wolfed down four delicious courses. It was decent tucker. I walked it off with a three mile hike to Colwick village. The evening was taken up with a vicious game of Monopoly. My strategy was scattergun, a little like the tight-permed Pies' manager Ricardo Moniz in the transfer market.

I've lost any sense of what day it is. I'm reminded it's Monday. I peruse yesterday's Non League Paper. We don't fancy travelling afar after a tiring day at Anfield on Boxing Day. Blog legend Trumpy is already booked into the Premier Inn at Royal Tunbridge Wells. He'll be knocking them back at two a penny at J D Wetherspoons' Opera House in the town centre.

I quite like the United Counties League at Step 5 in the Non League Pyramid. I've spotted some good young talent in the past. One of those, Dan Holman, has been hitting the onion bag with increased regularity for Woking in the Conference this season. Harrowby United, based in Grantham, are entertaining Sleaford Town in a local derby.

I'm nursing a slight hangover, following a session last night in the Meadow Covert, in Edwalton. I bumped into an old work colleague Vikas, who had returned to the pub following an early doors session for Forest v Dirty Leeds game on Sky. We have a giggle and a catch-up from our days at Impero Software. I really miss the guys there.

I'm flicking through the 2016 Good Pub Guide as Ms Moon cruises down the A52. The Blue Pig is an entry in the GPG. First port of call is the corner of North Parade, in Grantham town centre. It's now a chiropractic clinic. 90 years ago it was a grocers and the birthplace of Margaret Hilda Thatcher - aka the Milk Snatcher. I take a snap of the plaque high up on the wall. We park in the old town, next to the Old Angel and Royal Hotel, a 600 year old historic inn.

Ms Moon desperately rummages around in her handbag looking for a lighter. After what seems an age, she finally unearths one. She furiously flicks her thumb repeatedly against the flint in an attempt to spark up a fag. It's an epic fail. She stomps off up the road to Lidl to buy five for a quid. I'm nicely settled in a corner of the bar at the Blue Pig. I neck a Timmy Taylor's and devour a cheese and tomato cob. Harrowby's Environcom Stadium, on Dickens Road, is only five minutes away.

The Club were formed in 1949 and are nicknamed The Arrows. I recognise one of their joint managers - Nicky Anderson - from my time scouting with Notts County. He knows this patch of Lincolnshire like the back of his hand, and won't be afraid to throw some young uns in.

It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a information-packed programme. I use the term 'gate' loosely as we squeeze through a packed bar, and pay our monies to a guy sat at a table close to the exit door into the ground. I'm not that taken with the stadium. There are some nice touches though, such as Stan's Stand on the far side of the ground. This is named after former groundsman Les Staniland.

Ms Moon points out to me a memorial bench. I wander over. A plaque reads 'In Loving Memory of Danny Walsh.' Researching on the internet, later, I discover the desperately sad story behind Danny's untimely death. He was walking back from the Club one night with his partner and two year old little girl, when he stopped to complain about noise coming from a neighbouring party. He died from severe brain injuries after being kicked in the head. Two brothers were later acquitted of murder at Lincoln Crown Court.

The visitors, Sleaford Town, have also had their share of bad luck. In August 2014, there then manager, Kris Jones, was involved in a serious car accident on the A1 - he was left with life-threatening injuries. He suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, broken arm, a C7 vertebrae fracture and a severe brain injury.  After 11 months in hospital he was finally able to return home. I met his mum and dad once at Sleaford, they are lovely people. I wish him all the best on his road to recovery.

We stand next to a group of raucous men, who seem to have over-cooked it on the ale. Sleaford are awarded a free-kick around 35 yards out and close to us. A wind-assisted ball is whipped in, catching the 'keeper unaware and off his line. It evades his waving hand and ends up in the back of the net. The Arrows deservedly restore parity a few minutes later with the excellent Danny Durkin rounding the 'keeper before sliding the ball into an empty net.

It's an action-packed first half, with the young ref doing well to keep a lid on it, as the tackles go flying in. The impressive Durkin, who has teased and tormented the Sleaford back four, doubles his tally for the day early in the second half. Ten minutes later he jinks his way down the wing like a young Peter Beardsley, before unselfishly releasing the ball for Wilkinson to put the game to bed. Sleaford complete a miserable day by blasting a penalty high over the bar and into the nearby housing estate.

Footnote: 18 year old Danny Durkin has scored 18 goals in the United Counties League. He is a first year student at Loughborough University, who play at the same level as Harrowby United. He has not been selected for any of the four University teams. *emailing Head Coach to ask why*

Man of the Match: Danny Durkin

Attendance: 121

Monday, December 28, 2015

Liverpool 1-0 Leicester City

I can't believe it's taken me 51 years to tick-off Anfield (Ground No.76).There was a missed opportunity a couple of seasons ago when Notts County pulled Liverpool out of the hat in the League Cup. I chose not to travel, as the Pies punched above their weight for the one and only time during Chris Kiwomya's ill-feted reign. It took Liverpool 120 minutes to finally see the visitor's off.

It's Boxing Day morning. Christmas Day was of mixed emotions for me. It was the first time my boys and I had not been together on Christmas Day. I met them in the Pear Tree, in Keyworth on Christmas Eve to exchange presents. There was no decent real ale on. I gave DJ Stag the swerve and headed back into town, before enjoying some beers in the Crafty Crow and Roundhouse.

Ms Moon pilots the Land Rover Freelander over towards my old stomping ground, Keyworth. She's singing along to her new 1980s CD that Santa bought her. We drive through 'The Bronx' and up a cul-de-sac. A ruddy-faced man walks down his drive. His bright orange Slazenger polo shirt lights up the gloomy skies. His Sainsbury's carrier bag is orange too. Trumpy Bolton will be on his best behaviour today, as he is accompanied by his wife, Jayne. He's soon swigging out his litre bottle of cider, having already seen off three tins of ale down the hatch for breakfast. He's certainly in the mood for a bit of kissing and canoodling with Mrs B.

As we breeze down the A50 and up the M6, Trumpy fills us in on his forthcoming 7 day drinking spree in Tunbridge Wells and old London Town, to see the New Year in. We pull into some services at Crewe, so Ms Moon can get her fix of Coffee and a solitary Silk Cut Silver. Trumpy spots a group of Japanese tourists queuing for a McDonalds - Bolton claims they are relatives of the Foxes' Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki.

The counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire are on a state of Red Alert. Many towns are under water. I have watched football, and met so many people in the North of England during my 10 years of groundhopping. I pray to God that they are all safe and okay.

We hit the outskirts of Liverpool in under two hours. Trumpy Bolton has the monk-on as we sail past a Wetherspoons in West Derby. It's £10 to park the car just south of Anfield. Bolton sniffs a pub out up the Anfield Road called the Arkles. He's as light on his feet as 24 year old Leicester winger Riyhad Mahrez as he manoeuvers  his way though a crowded bar to shout up the round to a miserable old bat of a barmaid. The bar has the heat of a blast furnace, as we exit outside, there's a huge cheer as Stoke take the lead against United.

I down a couple of pints of Guinness in the Flat Iron up the road, as Bolton moonstomps to 'Nite Klub.' by The Specials. Ms Moon finds a floating fingernail in her glass of Coke. I leave Ms Moon people-watching as I peg it on a circuit of the ground. Redevelopment of the Main Stand has begun. I pay my respects to the 96 who lost their lives at Hillsborough. I was there that awful day. I also notice a memorial plaque to commemorate the 39 who died at the Heysel Stadium Disaster in 1985.

It's our third visit to the city this year. In the summer we took in Southport v Wigan in a pre-season friendly. A few months ago we watched Cammell Laird batter North West Counties League leaders Colne FC 4-0.

I part with £7.50 for a beefburger, fried onions and a tray of chips. Ms Moon wolfs the scran down, as she hasn't eaten all day. It's £47 for the ticket and £3.50 for an excellent programme. I scan the names of Liverpool's 50 man squad, 15 of them are out on loan. The ground is impressive and packed to the rafters. We're reunited with a nervous Mr and Mrs Bolton.  'The Thinkerman' (Claudio Ranieri), as he is now called, has restored the German, Robert Huth to his back-line. An injury-ravaged Liverpool still have a star-studded midfield.

City's 3000 away following have poor banter - they sing 'Feed a Scouser' to the tune of 'Do They Know it's Christmas Time.' It's a sight to behold, as red and white scarves are raised above heads, as Gerry and the Pacemakers is belted out the PA system.

The game is played at a ferocious pace, no quarter is given in the early stages, honours are even. Leicester's stand-out player is the tenacious French midfielder N'Golo Kante. He snaps in the tackle, picks up the seconds and can pick a pass. It's another hat-tip to the City Head of Recruitment for spotting this bargain buy from Caen in the summer.

Wes Morgan and Huth have a cigar on whilst dealing with the lumbering and clumsy Kenyan, Divock Origi. It turns out to be a game-changer when he limps out of the attack on 38 minutes to be replaced by the discarded Belgian, Christian Benteke, who proves to be a bit of a handful.

It's deadlock at the break. The Leicester fans are frustrated and over-expectant of their team. Liverpool swarm all over them in the second half. They're passed off the park by Henderson, Lallana and the wonderful Coutinho. The goal duly arrives on the hour after some wonderful build-up play, with Benteke guiding the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

City have nothing left in the tank. They look leggy and listless. The ineffective Vardy is withdrawn from the attack, little improves, although there is a grandstand finish.

Man of the Match: N'Golo Kante

Attendance: 44,123