Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ramsbottom United v Sheffield FC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Melton Town 0-2 Rushden and Higham United

Murphy Palmer, the budgie, and I, are still raging with X-Factor flop Jake Quickenden (booted off on week 3 by the Great British public). Murphy pecked his way through Quickenden's Twitter timeline. He failed to show at last week's FA Cup tie up in 'Sunny Scunny' because he claimed he was singing at a poolside party in Ibiza. I bet it was at some ropey Thomson hotel in front of a load of old codgers. He's quick to answer a steady stream of floozies who flood his timeline, calling him Babe, but not a polite question from Sticky and Murph - the big-time-Charlie. His new single 'Feel My Love' was released in July. You get it free if you rummage around in your Corn Flakes packaging.

It's Monday tea-time and I'm strolling over Trent Bridge towards the cricket ground. There are no queues at the ticket office as I hand over £20 to the cashier. I have a swift pint in the back garden of the Stratford Haven, before finding a seat in the Larwood and Voce Stand, where I'm exposed to the bright evening sunshine. Notts are playing Essex in a T20 quarter final. My good friends, the Baker brothers, (Essex fans) are in the Fox Road Stand, adjacent to me. I'll see how many Notts rattle up before hunting them down.

Notts look 20 runs short as they limp their way to 162-7. I join the Bakers, who seem rather bullish, and a gathering of folk from Keyworth Cricket Club, including Barnsley FC fan Roger Wilson. New Zealand fat lad, Jesse Ryder, is at the crease and looking in imperious form, as he finds the gaps during the power-play. The Baker boys think the game is in the bag. Ryder is the victim of a freak run out. Essex crumble under pressure. Samit Patel is on flames, as Notts run out comfortable winners.

I'm down Selhurst Street in Radford on Tuesday evening, at the One Call Stadium. Local businessman, Adrian Rawdon, has very kindly donated some money into grassroots football. I'm stalking Radford manager, Big Glenn Russell, who is sporting his trademark baseball cap as the Pheasants romp to a 5-0 victory over local rivals Arnold Town.

We're back at HQ on Friday, in The Embankment, just over Trent Bridge. I gate a couple of craft ales from the Gamma Ray stable. It's 5.4% and amber nectar, folks. JJ, a Heinz variety dog, wolfs down a bag of pork scratchings that the barman has very kindly bought him. We switch on the Comedy Channel on our return home, and watch Nottingham Forest take a battering down in Brighton. We went to the corresponding fixture last season, they were bloody awful that night, too.

It's Saturday morning and Murphy is chillaxing on his perch to Merseybeat band the Swinging Blue Jeans and their 1964 hit 'You're No Good.' I take a trip to the tip before rocking up at the SCS furniture store on Lady Bay Retail Park. I sign a four year contract for a swish, leather sofa - it's a year longer than Armand Traore the Forest left back got, when he recently signed a three year deal from Queens Park Rangers. I really need to get a grip on my life as I emerge from B&M with a set of new baking trays. There's time for a headloss in Morrison's where the food aisles are clogged up with OAPs, who've had all week to flipping shop.

We head out to towards Leicestershire down the A46, as the A606 to Melton Mowbray is shut off. By chance we enter the village of Burrough Hill. A famous thoroughbred horse called Burrough Hill Lad came from here. He was trained by Jenny Pitman and its wins included: the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National.

We pitch up at the Stilton Cheese, in Somerby. Leicester City flags are fluttering on the roof. The chef has radio commentary on from the KCOM Stadium, in Hull. I have a pint of Maori from the South Island Brewery in New Zealand. We both opt for homemade sausages. Oh dear, Trumpy Bolton isn't going to be too chuffed, the Foxes are losing 2-1 to the Tigers.

Melton Mowbray is a town in Leicestershire with a population of just under 30,000. It is well known for its pork pie and Stilton cheese. Pedigree Petfoods were a major employer in the town, with 2000 people working there at one time. Well known people from Melton include: footballers Paul Anderson and Oliver Burke, ex England fast bowler Tim Munton, Monty Python actor Graham Chapman, actor Mark Wingett (DC Jim Carver from The Bill), Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy lives in the area.

Melton is bustling with folk today, 'Pie Fest' is taking place at the Cattle Market. Digital Deadline Park is on the outskirts of town, on the Burton Road. It is also known as the Melton Sports Village.

It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a four page programme. Hoppers come from as far afield as Surrey, Sussex and Felixtowe to tick the ground off, as it's Melton Town's first season here following promotion from the Leicestershire Senior League. I have a friendly chat with vice chairman Howard Eggleston. I remark that it is somewhat of a coup that they have managed to attract former Bristol City and Luton Town striker Tony Thorpe as their manager this season.

A silver-haired Thorpe takes his position in the technical area, his assistant, Ross Perkins, is on a five match touchline ban for a misdemeanour at his previous club Barrow Town. The visitors are soon in front, a deep cross from the left is nodded into the net by Ryan Kalla. It isn't pretty on the eye. The Melton defence seem content to hoof the ball down the middle, with strikers Palfreyman and Love living off scraps.

'Thorpey' isn't in the dressing room for long at half-time, he's steaming and looks to have blown a gasket. He apologises to Ms Moon and I, if we caught any bad language. Ten Red Arrows, in two banks of five, roar across the skyline, heading back to base in RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. Melton don't look as if they have a goal in them. Substitute Jack Baker, back in the early hours of the morning after being on the lash abroad with his mates, lifts the spirits of the team with some skillful, jinking runs.

There is a sickening challenge by the portly Rushden left back. The whistle had long gone when he lunges in with all studs showing down the shins of his opponent. Remarkably referee Mr Walker chooses not to consult his assistant and only brandishes a yellow card. The chunky defender is sensibly substituted allowing him time to race across town for seconds at the 'Pie Fest.'  Rushden's second goal is a replica of the first, with the cross this time coming in from the right wing and once again nodded in at the back stick.

A stray clearance heads in my direction as referee Stewart Walker blows for time. I scurry after the ball, before bowling it back towards the ref. Envious Hoppers look on, as they always like a touch of the match ball.

Man of the Match: Ryan Kalla

Attendance: 96

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bottesford Town 1-0 Radford FC

It's a gorgeous day on Sunday, as we stroll along the river in the village of Gunthorpe. Lunch is taken at a 200 year old listed building called the Staunton Arms in the Vale of Belvoir. They serve up a roast to die for, accompanied by a cracking pint of Bass. We drop by Ellerslie Cricket Club, on Wilford Lane, and watch a batsman swipe the ball into neighbouring gardens, before basking in the afternoon sunshine in the beer garden of The Embankment.

Last week I awarded March Town right back Adam Conyard my man of the match. Totally by coincidence I catch his 16 year old brother Rob in action on Tuesday; he's on trial for a Nottingham Forest X1 at Dunkirk FC. I was accompanied by The Taxman, fresh from his holidays in Cornwall. Forest have some good 'uns coming through now. Charlie Jemson, son of former Tricky Tree and Preston North End forward Nigel Jemson, is the pick of the bunch.

The highlight of the week is the 4-0 drubbing I give Ms Moon on BBC 1's Pointless. They're that many tears shed I have to ring up Severn Trent to turn all the water off. I'm away on business in Birkenhead, Rochdale and Birmingham. It's not a bad old life driving around the clogged up motorways in our country listening to Test Match Special. I'm pleased as punch to see Gary Ballance has been recalled to the team. There is an instant return, with a calm, cool, composed 70 runs.

I arrive back on Thursday evening, jump in the shower, before wandering over Trent Bridge and hooking up with Coops and the 'Mayor of London' at the Southbank Sports Bar. Nottinghamshire Cricket Club's fast-medium pace bowler, Luke Fletcher, aka the 'Bulwell Bomber', is on stage with Dave Bracegirdle. Fletch is comedy gold. It's the best £5 I've spent this year. He's seriously under-cooked his value. I'd have paid four times that amount. He rolls out a string of anecdotes. Tears of laughter are streaming down my eyes.

I'm fagged out on Friday. I potted too many of those Ghost Rider IPA's. We're back in town early in the evening. The Bell Inn has tables outside. It's a great people-watcher as you look out onto the Market Square. The Punk IPA ain't bad either.

I catch Murphy Palmer the budgie gnawing his way through a millet spray ('crack cocaine'). We whistle together to Georgie Fame's 'Say Yeah Yeah' - although I prefer the Matt Bianco version. I nip out to Aldi to buy some bottled water. A procession of police vans are heading into town, with fully tooled-up plod frothing at the mouth in anticipation of a battle with the English Defence League, whose presence are gracing our town today. It's a busy day for the rozzers, as NFFC are at home and it's also the Riverside Festival in the same area.

Ms Moon is piloting the Audi towards Newark, the town is gridlocked with traffic. We head north up the A1. Myleene Klass is playing Whitney Houston on Smooth FM - it about tips me over the edge. After navigating some winding roads we enter the village of Epworth and more importantly the Old School Inn.

The actress Sheridan Smith was born in the village, perhaps she'll be in the pub, I've heard she likes a tipple. She starred in the ITV drama Mrs Biggs, which was directed by a chap called Paul Whittington. I used to play reserve team pub football with Paul.

We sit on the patio in the baking sunshine. I have a couple of Dizzy Blondes from the Robinson's stable. The food is terrific value. Another cracking pub has been ticked-off thanks to the Good Beer Guide.

Birch Park is only a 25 minute drive away. I clock a sign for the village of Flixborough. My Dad was the East Midlands correspondent for the Daily Mirror for 25 years. He only ever worked one Saturday shift on the paper during his career and this was to cover the Flixborough disaster. On the 1st June 1974 there was an explosion at the chemical plant, 28 people were killed and 36 seriously injured.

Bottesford is a small town in North Lincolnshire with a population of 11,000, that is joined to Scunthorpe. Queen Elizabeth II visited the town on her Golden Jubilee tour in 2002.  Famous people from Scunny include: BBC weatherman Darren Bett (Murph and I love Dazzler, he always looks on the bright side, even when it's throwing it down with rain), former Buzzcocks and Magazine frontman Howard Devoto, the golfer Tony Jacklin, Royle Family actress Liz Smith and X-Factor singer Jake Quickenden.

Murph and I have got beef with Quickenden. He sometimes plays footy for Bottesford, so we politely sent him a tweet to see if he was in the squad for the FA Cup game on Saturday. We never got a sniff. Olly Murs was the same, the miserable sod. Anyhow, those Radford lads would rough him up and tease him, after all, he was hoofed out on week 3 of X-Factor. Murph and I voted to keep in 'Only the Young' on gridlock that week.

My Dad was a massive Lincoln City fan. In 1976 he went to Scunthorpe's Old Show Ground to watch Graham Taylor's Imps win 2-1. Dad was in a vile mood on his return home. He missed both goals due to his view been obscured by a dirty glass window in the main stand. Next thing I know he's ringing up the Scunny chairman's home number to put an official complaint in. His wife picked the phone up and politely told Dad that her husband was in the bath. "Well f***ing well drag him out the bath and put him on this call" my dad replied   ... lol.

It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a really good programme, which has a picture of Quickenden on it. Murphy will be sticking his beak into that tonight. It's a no-show from Quickenden, he's too busy styling his hair with Dax wave and groom wax. Big Glenn Russell, the Radford manager, is in the bar with the committee, whilst Jon Adams warms the boys up. It's the FA Cup extra preliminary round, with £1500 at stake for the winners. The Poachers DJ cranks it up a notch with Sham 69's 'If the Kids Are United.' Ms Moon is less than impressed with my pogoing on the terraces.

The Pheasants of Radford look sharp in the early stages. I'm more concerned about my man Big Glenn getting fried by the glorious sunshine, as he appears to have forgotten his trademark baseball cap. Bottesford begin to get on top, with Radford thankful to their keeper Luke Edge for some smart saves. Radford have a strong final 15 minutes and look the more likely to score.

The big news at half-time is a little lad called Ryan is stuck up a tree. His Dad prevents a emergency call to Fireman Sam by rescuing the youngster.. I ring Murphy to tell him that the DJ is playing our favourite song - Cake By The Ocean by DNCE (whack name). Murph is on fine form as his team the Canaries are thumping Blackburn Rovers 3-1. His favourite player and distant relative, Jacob Murphy, has scored.

Radford are still in the changing rooms when Bottesford Town score the opening goal. The poor old 'keeper, who has had a decent game, comes for a deep cross, the ball falls from his grasp and lands at the feet of Martin Pembleton who blasts home from close range.

The impressive Kenny Reeves has the chance to restore parity within seconds but fails to pull the trigger. The game becomes scrappy, if anything Bottesford look likely to score again. Big Glenn throws on a few subs as a final gamble. A ball is floated in from the left by the pacey substitute, it skims off the head of substitute Connor Carter and agonisingly kisses the inside of the post before being cleared away from danger.

The final whistle is blown by an over-zealous referee who has faffed about in the second half, wasting more time than the players. It's the end of the road to Wembley for Big Glenn, but we'll be re-united again on Tuesday when they entertain neighbours Arnold in the East Midlands Counties League. Hopefully it will see the return of his baseball cap, as I bet his bonce is sore.

Man of the Match: Luke Fletcher Notts CCC

Sunday, July 31, 2016

March Town 3-0 Wisbech Town

I wake up on Sunday morning to a pleasant surprise, those wonderful people at Yaxley FC have donated £35 to the Parkinson's Disease charity. Ms Moon and I take a late morning stroll along the banks of the river Trent, past The City Ground and the Nottingham Boat Club - where famous bands such as Led Zeppelin, U2 and Def Leopard have strutted their stuff back in the day.

We drop by the Ferry Boat in the village of Wilford, on the south side of the river. There's another drinks break taken at Sticky's current favourite hostelry, Castle Rock's The Embankment, which is situated just over Trent Bridge next to the pretentious  Riverbank bar and restaurant. I sink a pint of Dissolution from the Kirkstall Brewery in Leeds - it's amber nectar and an extortionate £5.30 per pop.

It's Tuesday evening and I'm driving through the picturesque village of Tollerton en route to the New Field of Dreams. The 'Keyworth Georgie Best' (Sticky Jnr) is in 'friendly' action tonight versus West Bridgford FC.

I managed him and his mates for one season only at under 18 level - I nearly had a nervous breakdown. One Sunday we were playing a game out in the Vale of Belvoir against some rednecks. We were 3-1 down with ten minutes to go. I'd already hauled off Junior before he blew a gasket at a linesman who was repeatedly and incorrectly flagging our man offside. It was roll-on, roll-off subs, so I let him off his leash for the dying embers of the game. He cracked home a 25 yard volley into the roof of the net, before bagging a crazy solo goal at the fag end of injury time. He practically broke the linesman's fingers with a bone-crunching handshake at the final whistle.

He's trying to break into Keyworth United's first team. They've hired an excellent coach in Steve Pemberton, who is trying to teach the beautiful game to this team, after three seasons of huff and puff boot and run football.

I'm back in this neck of the woods on Thursday. I watch my Godson, Will, and his little bro, 'Gangsta' playing cricket for local rivals Plumtree against my team, Keyworth. I catch up with my best friend, their dad, Steve, as Plumtree u19s cruise to victory.

I knock off for work on Friday and peg it up to Mansfield Road to get my ears lowered. Wisdoms barbers is full of characters. The chap cutting my hair offers me a free one if I can guess his country of origin. I take a stab at Iraq. I'm close, but no cigar - it was Kurdistan.

I pop into The Embankment for another pint of rocket fuel, before hooking up with some guys at work, who I've never met before, for a spot of steak and chips in the Derek Randall Suite and some T20 entertainment. England fast bowler Jake Ball concedes 25 runs to all parts of the boundary in the final over of Leicestershire's innings. Notts are ruthless in the run chase as dark clouds loom. Lumb bludgeons the attack for a 17 ball 50, New Zealander Dan Christian betters this by one ball. I celebrate, on my tod, with another pint of Dissolution in The Embankment.

My feet are in bits on Saturday morning. I must have clocked up six miles yesterday. Murphy Palmer the budgie is perched on my shoulder whistling to 'Lost That Loving Feeling' by the Righteous Brothers - he'll be on the receiving end of that tune when his team Norwich City, take a thumping at NFFC later in the season - I've not told him yet that the Canaries have been relegated. Brian Matthew is on flames this morning on Radio 2, he spins Johnny Radcliffe's Northern Soul classic 'Long After the Night is Over.'

I nip to see the Kosovans to get my car washed. I have some banter with the boss. He tells me how he travelled to his Uncle's in France and watched two Albanian games live in Lyon during Euro 2016. I pop down Castle Boulevard to Majestic Wines and order up a couple of boxes of Red.

There's just time to blast Murphy the budgie with cold water before jumping into the car and heading out to the East of England. 7 year old Daniel Ackerman has missed the team bus to Cambridgeshire following the junior goal post incident at Yaxley FC  last week. The FA will quite rightly throw the book at him. We're lunching at the friendly dining pub, the Dog and Doublet, out in the Fens. The fish and chips are to die for. A swarm of thunder flies and the constant ear-aching electro-jazz music are annoying though. I have a little moan at the barman on the way out.

We arrive at the GER on Robin Goodfellows Lane in March well before kick-off. It's £5 a piece on the gate. I fall in love with the rickety, old blue-painted stand that runs along the nearest touchline. Rumours are rife on the Non League circuit that it is to be demolished soon. There are bungalows behind the furthest goal, with a covered stand behind the dugouts on the far side and a grass bank at the back of the nearest goal.

I chance upon a chap rummaging around in some undergrowth taking some snaps. It's legendary West Yorkshire groundhopper, Gerry from the Onion Bag blog. What a lovely chap he is too. We tip each other the wink on a few hidden gems we need to visit.

Bloody hell, I don't believe it, that flipping Leicester City scout is here again. He loves wearing his kit. He's still driving around in that battered old silver car that Jamie Vardy flogged him. I bet it still has Jamie's Boys II Men and Backstreet Boys CD's in the glove compartment. Heart FM is booming out of the PA system. Having heard Robbie Williams, Craig David and Adele, I'm on the verge of swallow-diving into one of the nearby dykes.

The circumstances of today's game are really sad and touching. In 2002 three young lads lost their lives in a car accident, two of them were members of the March Town under 18 team. Each year a game is played in their memory and a cup presented to the winners. My spine tingles as the players emerge from out of the dressing rooms. What a desperately tragic story this is. But what a fitting tribute.

There's an incident at the Food Bar as word spreads there are no onions being fried. Every customer asks for onions as a wind-up - Gerry from the Onion Bag is particularly upset. The game is played at a fast pace. The Hares from March impress particularly. They deservedly take the lead with two well worked goals. It's worth noting that they play at a League level below Wisbech in the football pyramid.

I get chatting to a lovely old gentleman in the second half. He watches Wisbech most weeks despite living in March. On this performance I've got some sympathy for the chap. March have been outstanding. They put the game to bed following another quality cross. The stand-out player is Adam Conyard their 2 jacket. Adam is incisive in the tackle, supports the attacks and passes the ball with intelligence. Surely he can perform at a higher level. He hasn't given Wisbech winger Billy Smith a sniff. He lets him out his pocket only when the excellent referee blows for time. Fair play to the home 'keeper for some cracking saves and brave keeping.

Man of the Match: Adam Conyard

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