Sunday, December 7, 2014

Worksop Town 2-1 Westfields FC

 
It's been a sombre and sobering week. I attended the funeral of my former youth leader, mentor, friend and secretary of the Cricket Club. The speeches were spine-tingling, tear-jerking and moving. What a send-off they gave him. The only light relief in our household over the last few days has been when me and Murphy the budgie practise our Muttley the dog impressions. I've got to say that mine is coming on a treat.

I firm up the trip to Worksop with blog legend Trumpy Bolton. I've been trying to get up there for the last eight years. They were locked out of their Sandy Lane ground for a while by their Landlord. I had hoped to hook up with north Notts correspondent Dudsey; sadly he's on domestic duties.

Having valeted the 'Rolls Royce' and filled her up with petrol, I chug up the 'Bronx' to pick up our hero. He's instructing Mrs Trumpy on how to scrape frost off his car as he saunters down the drive swinging his Scottish Co-op bag that is filled with booty (cider).

 
It's a crisp winter's day as we head out towards to the A46. Trumpy's not having Graham Norton on; we compromise on Gem AM and George Benson's 'Never Give Up on a Good Thing' (Jesus wept). Trumpy recalls a string of tales from recent trips to Southampton and Cirencester. He's embraced the 21st Century by investing in an iPad. I can only imagine that some of the websites he visits are not for the faint-hearted.

He's booked into the Bristol Premier Inn for five days at Christmas so he can chalk a few more boozers off. He's intrigued by inner-city St Paul's and promises to pay them a visit. We pull into The Lock Keeper at Gateford, close to Worksop. It's just gone midday, but the pub is already bustling with folk. We have a pint of Marston's Pedigree. Trumpy is totally unmoved by Susan Boyle on the jukebox.

Trumpy is Leicester mad, be it football, cricket, rugby or speedway. He sneers in my direction when I mention I had a pint of 'Carl Froch' from the Castle Rock Brewery the other week in Cambridgeshire. "He's not in the same class as Tony Sibson or Rendall Munroe, the boxing binman from Leicester."

 
Next port of call is one of those dreadful Sizzling pubs called The Millhouse, just down the road from Worksop's ground. A few youths, looking worse for wear from the night before, are cheering on Newcastle United who are entertaining Chelsea. Bolton shouts up a pint of real ale and a Strongbow cider for himself; it's just a light refreshment for Sticky. I wolf down gammon and chips as the legend plays with his chicken breast and jacket potato, which can only be described as the palest and driest dinner I have ever seen in my life.

Senegal striker Papiss Cisse scores from close range to put the Magpies 1-0 up as Trumpy downs his fourth pint of the day. There's one of his legendary sneezing fits as we exit the pub. The ground is situated behind one of those ghastly retail parks.

We're flagged down by a guy in a fluorescent jacket. "Who are you?" he enquires. "You might find this hard to believe, but I'm a football supporter", I remark. "You could be the bloody Taliban for all I know", he quips as I'm ushered into a car parking spot.

 
Worksop is a town in the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire with a population of 45,000. Coal mining provided thousands of jobs in the 19th and 20th Century. By the 1990s all the pits had closed. Premier Foods are now the town's biggest employer. Places of interest include Mr Straw's House and Clumber Park.

Famous residents from Worksop include: golfers Lee Westwood, Mark Foster and Maurice Bembridge, goalkeepers Darren Ward and Ian Bennett, Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, John Parr of 'St Elmo's Fire' fame, actor Donald Pleasance and former England manager Graham Taylor.

The guys on the gate are reminiscing about last week's top of the table clash with Tadcaster Albion. Jonathan Greening was sent off after three minutes for a flailing elbow. It finished 2-2 in a feisty encounter. Trumpy has blotted his copybook and needs to brush up on his research. The Grafton Hotel, Worksop's finest real ale house, is just around the corner.

 
It's £5 on the gate. The programme is terrific value for only £1. I also grab a couple of golden goal tickets. The Club claim to be the fourth oldest in the world. They were founded in 1861 and have played at Sandy Lane since 1992, although they were evicted by their landlords for a number of seasons. They plunged into financial meltdown last season when their owner pulled the plug. Notable former players include: Arsenal legendary manager Herbert Chapman, who was born down the road in Kiveton Park and former sausage factory worker Chris Waddle, whose son is one of the subs today.

Bolton is directed towards the bar by a friendly steward, as I take up my position to the left of the away dugout. There's no music or crackling PA today. The winners of this tie will be in the final 32 of the FA Vase.

Worksop look very sharp in the game's opening exchanges. Everything seems to come through pint-sized midfielder Conor Sellars, son of former Newcastle and Blackburn winger Scott Sellars, who until recently was Head of Academy coaching at Manchester City.

 
It's a pulsating first half with chances at both ends. The Tigers of Worksop take a deserved lead on 33 minutes, captain Jake Scott releases the ball to Conor Higginson, who cleverly chips the ball over the advancing 'keeper and into the onion bag.

There's controversy moments later when the linesman awards a penalty when the bearded No.7 from ZZ Top takes a tumble in the area. Westfields score from the spot.  Trumpy's bottom lip quivers when I tell him there could be extra time.

There's a biting chill in the air as I stumble across Trumpy in the clubhouse, perched on a stool, with glass in hand. It's poetry in motion as another pint of cream flow bitter is dispatched down the hatch. He checks in with Mrs Bolton to see if she's bled all the radiators.

I clock Basford United joint-manager Martin Carruthers in the bar. I presume he is on a spying mission, as the Nottinghamshire club are due in Herefordshire next weekend.

Westfields are reduced to ten men early in the second period with their defender being punished as last man as Sellars is sent flying. Trumpy asks a baffled spectator where are  the big screens.

The deciding goal comes in the 69th minute with Trumpy Bolton playing his part in it. After another visit to the bar, a clearance is collected by Bolton who is sauntering around the back of the goal. He nonchalantly flicks the ball up and throws it to a Westfields player to take a quick corner, which is immediately cleared up field. After great build up play, Elliott finally thumps home a volley to send the Tigers fans delirious.

A sub comes on for Worksop; he's as big as Tom Thumb. He doesn't look old enough to do a paper-round. Trumpy shouts out to the player in question that his Mum has just phoned up and she wants him home for tea because it's getting dark.

Attendance: 377

Man of the Match: Trumpy Bolton

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Brodsworth Welfare AFC 2-2 Ollerton Town

When I was a teenager I started going to Youth Club. I loved the socialising - playing darts, table tennis and football in the Barn. There was your usual waifs, strays and tearaways. They all looked up to one man at the Club, our youth leader Cliff. He had the coolest head I've ever seen on a man. If a fight brokeout and the perpetrators were hauled into the office for a dressing down, they took their punishment on the chin, such was their respect for the man. His job was no easy ride. The kids worshipped the ground he walked on. Cliff and his lovely wife Jean mentored and shaped the lives of so many in our village.

It was so much fun back in those days. The 'Film Nights' were legendary. Over 100 kids roaring on Rocky Balboa to his latest World title.. We had discos and day trips out to the Capital. I used to help Cliff set up the film nights and tidy up after. One evening he called me into the office and produced an envelope from out of his jacket pocket. Now, you have to remember I was a football nut at the time. "I want to thank you for all your help" he said. My fingers were trembling as I tore away at the seal on the envelope. Inside was a ticket for the League Cup final between Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton Wanderers. I'd never been to Wembley before.

We had lunch at Cliff's sister's. I even remember a sneaky pint of Watney's bitter. Two Tone was all the rage down the 'Smoke.' Everyone wore black suits, white shirts, leather ties, winkle pickers and pork pie hats. The atmosphere at the Twin Towers blew me away. Forest lost. I didn't care. What a day. What a memory to take away. All because of one man.

 
I'm welling up writing this blog. Last Sunday evening I learnt of the devastating news of Cliff's untimely passing. He was one of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever had the privilege to meet. He'd just retired as secretary of the Cricket Club, after 20 years as a volunteer, to look after his wife. I'll be there to say goodbye on Thursday. And I look forward to sharing anecdotes with others about Cliff and the Youth Club.

It's Saturday morning and there's one hell of a commotion downstairs. I walk into the Lounge. Murphy the budgie is on the dining room table dragging a millet spray and spitting all the seeds everywhere. He'll be in big trouble when the Gestapo get back. It's gone 10:00 and he's missed the Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s show. He's a bundle of nerves about his team Norwich City and there recent slump in form. One win in the last ten is poor form. He applied to Delia Smith at the fag end of last season for the managerial vacancy, but was foolishly overlooked for Neil Adams.

Finley the rabbit hasn't been out of his cage in days now. I'm starting to worry about him and his crap Non League tips. He fancies Ollerton Town to win 4-2 this afternoon. It's a short trip to just north of Doncaster. There aren't many Good Pub Guide entries in those neck of the woods, so it's a re-visit to the delightful village of Laxton, near Ollerton, and its picturesque red-bricked Dovecote public house. Laxton is famously home to three huge medieval fields. A pleasant lunchtime is spent eating a ham sandwich, which is washed down with Castle Rock's award-winning Harvest Pale Ale.

 
Brodsworth is a village in South Yorkshire with a population of 3000 people. Brodsworth Colliery had the highest UK production for a three shaft coal mine in the country. It closed in 1990. I drive through the gates and park the car behind the Welfare. I already know that I'm going to love this ground. I can hear a bit of shouting going off. I rub my eyes in disbelief. Folk are playing bowls on a mud-caked green. Even the French aren't that mad. It's a massive hat-tip from Sticky for these guys.

It's a bit of a hike to the ground; I should have booked a taxi. The Welfare building is beautiful and also mobbed out, as there is a kids party on. It's £2.50 on the gate and £1 for a pretty good programme. Sticky loves his grounds that are located in the heart of the community. The Snack Bar and changing rooms are behind the nearest goal. A blue-painted stand with wooden benches runs alongside the nearest touchline, with further cover behind the far goal. The far side is open, with what looks like a leisure centre behind it.

The local community haven't turned out like Wisbech did last week. There's barely twenty people here. I grab a cup of tea from the Snack Bar, sadly not poured from out of a teapot. I see two kids throwing mud at one another. They're a couple of rum uns. The youngest is wearing a Man Utd shirt. I say to the oldest: "What do you think to Man Utd ?" "They're crap", he replies.  I position myself to the left of the visitors' dugout. There's a presentation taking place on the pitch. Brodsworth have won the Fair Play award for the season's first quarter.

 
It's a very lively start. Ollerton see efforts kiss, crash and thud off the crossbar. 'Broddy' take the lead from the penalty spot. Ollerton restore parity. A cross from the right is tapped home at the far post. Broddy score another in bizzare circumstances. I get my grubby mitts on the matchball on 25 minutes. The referee complains they'll be added time because it took me that long to retrieve a stray clearance.  The visitors are denied a stonewall penalty on the stroke of half time. The linesman and ref both bottle it. I ask the ref at half-time about the penno. If looks could kill.

Ollerton pile on the pressure in the second period. Another shot cannons off the woodwork before they deservedly equalise.

Man of the Match: Cliff Anderson

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wisbech Town 2-1 Cleethorpes Town

It's Saturday morning and Murphy Palmer, my little green and canary yellow budgie, is flipping fuming and spitting feathers. 'The Angler' has popped round to do a spot of decorating. He has got the David Andrews show on Gold blasting out his Roberts radio, while he hangs up some wallpaper. Murph's not having 'Tiger Feet', 'I Will Survive'and 'Delilah.' We usually listen to the Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s on Radio 2.

It's his bloody fault that the Lounge wants decorating anyway. He's pecked no end of wallpaper off in the last few years. He's threatening to dive-bomb 'The Angler' and stick the beak in. I move the little fella into the kitchen for his own well being.

I've a few chores to carry out before I earn my pass-out to Cambridgeshire. One is to clean out Finley the rabbit. He's up for one of his crap Non League tips. "Cleethorpes to win 3-2", he says through gritted teeth. It's like being Dr Dolittle in this bloody house. Don't worry Fenman fans, Finley hasn't got a prediction right in eight years of guessing.

 
I was going to watch Keyworth United's version of Georgie Best today, after taking his brother 'The Skipper' to his Midland Junior Premier League game in Cannock, Staffs. Clifton cry off, so I make alternative arrangements.

I drive down the A46 and turn onto the A52 towards Grantham. I was hoping to meet up with 'Ackers', who lives in Whittlesey, but he's watching another FA Vase game across at Holbeach, where I went a few weeks ago. There's a really sad story to tell, that happened after the game. The Gorleston joint-manager was taken ill and sadly passed away from a heart attack caused by a blood clot, after his appendix were removed. He was in his early forties, and married with four children. The football is unimportant, the tale is tragic. God bless him.

The Sat Nav has a hissy fit on the A1, I lose the signal and miss the turning to Barnack. I have to crawl through Stamford. The Daniels (Stamford FC) are bidding a teary farewell to the Kettering Road ground today, after a 118 year stay. I saw Buxton play there a few years back. I was besotted with their centre midfielder Anton Foster. I bumped into him in the street that day. I got all star-struck and bottled out of asking him for his autograph.

 
I drive off-piste before arriving in the picturesque village of Barnack. I'm taken aback at a UKIP poster plastered in someone's front window. The author Charles Kingsley spent his childhood growing up in the Rectory.

I'm here to tick off another entry in the Good Pub Guide. The Millstone is an Everards pub, tucked away in a back lane. It has a timbered bar and there's cosy feel about the place. I would normally have plumped for a pint of Tiger or Beacon, but I clock a guest ale from the Castle Rock Brewery, in my neck of the woods, called Carl Froch.

There's a family gathering in the bar. I peruse the menu and order up a smoked bacon and melted Stilton cheese 'Doorstep' sandwich. It's delicious. 'Promised You a Miracle' by Simple Minds from the album New Gold Dream is on the pub sound system.

 
The trip to Wisbech is straight forward enough. I stick to the A47. The fields are waterlogged but the Club are confident that this appetising FA Vase 2nd round match will take place.

I bump into a Halifax Town fan in the car park. We talk about their former striker Lee Gregory who is now plying his trade for Ian Holloway at Millwall. It's a rather hefty £7 on the gate, not sure if the Club have hiked up the price because it's a Cup game. I bag a programme and some raffle tickets; I feel a little flush today.

Wisbech is a market town and inland port in the Fens of Cambridgeshire with a population of 30,000. The River Nene runs through the centre of the town. Local farmer Tony Martin gained notoriety after shooting dead an intruder at his isolated farmhouse just outside Wisbech.

The Fenmen were formed in 1920. They have played at this modern stadia since 2010. I have already viewed Cleethorpes Town at Nostell MW earlier in the season.I liked the look of them that day. The Elgoods Fenland Stadium is mobbed out today. The bar is jam-packed too as the community turn-out on the road to Wembley. There's a good following from Cleethorpes too. I get chatting to a bloke who has brought along his little daughter. It was a two hour trip from the seaside resort in Lincolnshire.

I stand on the far side of the ground, next to a small stand. The dugouts, changing rooms and social club are on the far side. I expect the game to be tight and evenly balanced. The first half is as good as I've seen this season. Livewire winger Billy Smith is running the show for the Fenmen. He's turning the full back inside out as he ghosts his way down the wing. He's finally clattered by a crunching tackle. "Get up you tart" is shouted from the away end, the offender sees a yellow card waved in his face. A helicopter eats up the skyline. A local wag remarks: "Here's the Sky TV cameras."

The Cleethorpes manager has a voice like a foghorn and is built like a brick outhouse. His nature is aggressive and he is quite scary. He calls the linesman an oxygen thief. It's unpleasant and unnecessary. He'll probably be running the doors in Grimsby town centre this evening. Cleethorpes enjoy a good spell of pressure and take the lead with a beautifully executed goal guided into the bottom corner of the net by Jack Richardson.

 
The Fenmen equalise on the stroke of half -time following good work down the right, a ball is played in for Josh Ford to bury his shot into the corner of the net. I get chatting to an Ipswich Town fan from Sandringham at the break (don't tell Murphy). He used to live down the road from me. He refers to Norwich as the Budgies. Lucky I didn't have Murphy perched on my shoulder, he'd have pecked his eyes out for saying that. Murphy would love it here, the Wisbech PA guy is playing our favourites Little Mix. We voted for them every week in the X-Factor.

The second half doesn't quite have the same ebb and flow about it. Wisbech take the lead through Ford again, following some poor defending by Cleethorpes from an inswinging corner. It could be more had it not been for a string of saves from the visiting 'keeper. 'Our man' is deathly quiet now, but seething inside. He encourages his team, but sends out very little information. His No.7 works his socks off, but they rarely work the 'keeper.

Wisbech hang on in a tense finale to find their way into the last 64 of the FA Vase.

Man of the Match: Josh Ford

Attendance: 218 (looked a lot more)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nuneaton Griff 3-5 Uttoxeter Town

 
You never know what sort of journey a Non League player may have taken. Last week I visited Halesowen Town. In 2008 they snapped up a winger who had been released from Wycombe Wanderers called Ikechi Anya. On Friday evening, in a European Championship qualifier, the 26 year old terrorised Republic of Ireland and Everton full back Seamus Coleman in front of a full house at Celtic Park. Six years earlier he'd been stacking shelves in a supermarket.

I'm in a vile mood on Saturday morning. I've tossed and turned for most of the night. I'm tired and tetchy. Murphy the budgie is subdued and Finley the rabbit has a poorly eye. His crap non league tip is that whatever game I choose will be 2-2. The fool hasn't got one right in 8 years.

I drop 'The Skipper' down at Clifton All-Whites; his under 18 team are entertaining Leamington BS in the Midland Junior Premier League. I drive back to Ruddington and nip into the Co-op to get some cash. The heavens open outside, it's siling down with rain. It's deja vu from last Saturday. I play about on my twitter. The till girls will think I'm stalking them. They won't have the gall to ask me to leave. I propped up the Keyworth Co-op branch for years, buying endless special offer Argentinean Malbecs (not in 1982) before its sad demise.


 
Clifton are bloody awful in the first half and are 3-0 down at the break. I bump into legendary First Team manager James 'Tosh' Turner. He looks the business in his Norwich City managers coat. His best buddy is former Newcastle, Leeds and Man City striker Darren Huckerby, who was released by Notts County at the age of 16. A monumental clanger, that was. 'The Lincoln' reaped the benefits.

Tosh is going through his texts in the Clubhouse. An anonymous one arrives asking him to collect his laptop that is cluttering up the doorway of Gino's Ristorante Italiano in Church Street, Ruddington. It's an eatery that King Billy Davies and his cronies used to eat at. Tosh is baffled by this. It must have been a heavy session last night.

This great Club, who have been magnificent with my boy, are holding a memorial today to remember club stalwart Keith Elliott. They have named a bus after him and are also unveiling an engraved stone later today at spot he used to stand at each week. I meet indie rock legend Jake Bugg's cousin. He's slightly out of tune, but seems content in his pushchair.

 
Bloody hell, Tividale's game against Brigg Town has been hosed-off and has bit the dust. It's a toss-up between Lichfield Town and Nuneaton Griff. It's gloomy, dank and dark as I speed up the M42. I've clocked a hostelry in the Good Pub Guide in the village of Coleorton, in north-west Leicestershire, called the Kings Arms, that needs ticking-off.

I walk into the bar. Buster Bloodvessel is banging out 'Special Brew.' Talking of brew, there are five real ales on show. I'm rubbing my hands with glee. Three locals are chatting bollocks at the bar. I wait a full five minutes; there's not a sign of any member of staff. I do an about turn and storm out the pub. I'll give em pelters on Trip Advisor later.

I search the net for decent boozers off the M42. I find a brilliant website that recommends The Dog and Doublet in Bodymoor Heath, close to Aston Villa's training ground. It's a wonderful old building on the canal, with an interesting interior. Meg Richardson from the Crossroads Motel serves me up a cheese sandwich and a pint of Wainwight. Even the Phil Collins music doesn't put me off.

 
Lichfield Town haven't replied to my tweet, while Nuneaton Griff have: Nuneaton it is then.  Nuneaton is a town with a population just shy of 80,000 in the county of Warwickshire. Due largely to munitions factories, the town suffered from heavy bombing by the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War. On the 17th May 1941 100 people were killed, 380 houses destroyed and over 10,000 properties damaged.

Nuneaton’s born and bred footballers include: Trevor Peake, John Curtis, Peter Whittingham, Nigel Winterburn and Matty Fryatt. Other cult celebrity are: Larry Grayson, Mary Whitehouse, Dean Richards, Paul Bradley (that dimwit Nigel off EastEnders), referee Stuart Attwell, film director Ken Loach and Victorian novelist George Eliot.

Tom Tom comes good for once and safely navigates me to the Pingles Stadium on the outskirts of the town. I look across at the ground as I step out of the car. My hearts sinks. There's an eight lane athletics track running around the perimeter of the pitch. Hopper doesn't do grounds with running tracks. Oh well, it's a tick-off and they replied to my tweet.

 
It's £4 on the turnstile. The programme is a good un for a quid. I'm pounced upon by a raffle ticket seller and buy a strip for a further £1. I should have brought my bloody binoculars, the pitch is that far away. The Maxwell House coffee is not helping at 50p a shot.

I getting gassing to a referees' assessor. I find these guys, as a rule, secretive and unsocialable. This chap opens up a bit. I enjoy his company and tell him I'm a fully qualified ref. I can hear some music booming out of a sound system in the changing room. The minutes silence is ruined by a guy in the park adjacent, letting his petrol driven remote control car noisely run up and down a grass bank.

The game is open and the standard of play surprises me (Step 6). Uttoxeter force a good save from the 'keeper and see an effort bounce off the woodwork.The Heartlanders take the lead against the run of play. The visitors score twice on the stroke of half time.

 
I notice that Notts County are up the road at Coventry City's Ricoh Stadium. Northern Ireland 'keeper Roy Carroll is playing his second game in 24 hours. Lincoln City's game at Eastleigh in the Conference has been postponed due to a fire at the Imps' hotel, stopping them from collecting all their kit.

Uttoxeter, buoyed by their two quick strikes, start the better. They increase their lead but are soon pegged back to 3-3. Nuneaton Griff have been magnificent and are worth the draw. There's a a game -changer with 20 minutes to go, Griff's 9 jacket is stupidly sent off. He kicks out at the corner flag as he sulks off to the changing room. Uttoxeter seal the game with a brilliant left footed strike and an injury-time close range finish. 10 jacket for Griff has worked his socks off but teenager Ollie Richie has caught my eye, as well as Football League scouts, I'm led to believe.

The game has been breathtaking, and I for one will re-visit this League sooner rather than later.

Man of the Match: Ollie Ritchie

Attendance: 75

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Halesowen Town 2-0 Ramsbottom United

I'm pegging it out of Holbeach Town's Carters Park ground with blog legend Trumpy Bolton. The Tigers have breezed through to the second round of the FA Vase. The visitors from Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, have been mediocre. They might as well have put local lass Myleene Klass up top.  The legend has had a quiet day in the office. A bottle of Tanglefoot, four pints of real ale, two ciders and a litre plastic bottle of cider is below par for Bolton.

He's got his eye on that Eastern European Drink Shop on a street corner. I manage to distract him and whisk him away in the direction of the 'Rolls Royce.' My last memory of Bolton that day was him throwing some shapes to 'Party Fears Two by The Associates, in the Keyworth Tavern lounge at Coops' 50th birthday bash.

It's Saturday morning. Last night I hung my nose over a bottle of Rioja for £8.50. I sunk the lot whilst listening to my iTunes. I'm nursing a sore head as Murphy the budgie whistles his little head off to The Who's 'I Can See For Miles.' Brian Matthew is on fire this morning on Radio 2, as he follows it up with classics from The Four Tops and The Ronettes. I send a congratulatory tweet to Warrington Town manager Shaun Reid after their 1-0 giant-killing of Exeter City. Shaun will have snapped, snarled, sworn and chewed gum furiously throughout the night.

 
Murphy has been giving it large on Facebook about Norwich City's chances at a faltering Nottingham Forest. Tricky Trees fan Sticky junior has taken exception to these postings. It's just a short flight for Murphy today, up the A606 into West Bridgford. I haven't told him about the 4-0 drubbing at Middlesbrough in midweek.

I nip up the local hardware store to collect a bag of crack cocaine (millet sprays) for Murphy. I leave him head butting his mirror to David Morales 1994 dance anthem 'Needin U.' It's hosing it down with rain, and has been for most of the morning. A poster on the excellent Tony Kempster's Non League forum has advised folk to avoid the West Midlands like the plague due to worsening conditions. Halesowen Town tweet me to say they are confident that the game will go ahead.

I can barely see out the windscreen on the M6. Football in the West Midlands could be washed out today. I'm heading to my favourite hostelry of the season - the Windsor Castle in Lye, close to Halesowen. I love the flagstone floors and nook and crannies of this delightful pub. The scruffy frontage doesn't do it justice. It's Sadler's Tap House flagship pub. The beer is brewed on the premises. I plump for a pint of Boris Citrus. It's blooming gorgeous.

 
The music is outstanding and is on an iPod shuffle. It comprises of the The Buzzcocks, Bee Gees and old school Stevie Wonder. I order up a Mud City cheese sandwich, which is made locally by a cheese-maker in Worcestershire. I check my twitter timeline. Halesowen are asking for volunteers to fork the pitch.

The Grove is only a couple miles down the road. There's a hotchpotch of housing, take-aways and nail and beauty salons on the high street in Cradley Heath. I park up opposite the Yeltz Social Club. The rain has stopped and the skies have cleared.

Halesowen is in the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley. It has a population of over 50,000. It was once famous for nail-making. Sandvik's UK headquarters are in the town. Notable people from the town include former Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe and Rex Williams a World Professional Billiards Champion, who is still alive aged 81.

 
It's a £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme. The ground is outstanding for this level. I walk past a bustling bar. There are queues at the cafe and club shop. A large terrace with sky blue painted crash barriers runs along the nearest touchline. There's another open terrace behind the far goal. The Harry Rudge Stand on the far side has 420 white and blue tip-up seats. Behind nearest goal is The Shed which is covered and the preferred choice of most folk today, who are trying to avoid the biting wind.

Ramsbottom United are today's visitors. I've heard rave reports on these guys by the north west's No.1 blogger Uwdi Krugg. One of my old favourites from Runcorn Town, Scott Burton is in Rammy's midfield. They are flying high in 3rd position in the Evostik Premier League.


 
 
Rammy are slow out the blocks. The Yeltz take the lead in bizarre circumstances. A sloppy backpass finds former Mansfield Town striker Iyseden Christie lurking near the penalty area. The wily old fox  pounces onto the opportunity and buries his shot emphatically into the back of the net. Christie bagged six goals in an FA Cup tie earlier in the season.

The Yeltz gain momentum and look likely to increase their lead. Rammy are bloody awful and toothless up front. They play with little width. Halesowen score again on the stroke of half time through Elliot Turner. Rammy almost reduce the deficit immediately with the move of the game, the final shot is tipped over the bar spectacularly by the home 'keeper.

Norwich are beating Forest; Murphy will be having a fit. Lincoln, my team, are losing at Eastleigh in the FA Cup. I notice that the tie between Weston Super-Mare and Doncaster Rovers was called off twenty minutes before kick-off. Those poor Donny fans have made a 400 mile round trip for nothing. I hope the club look after them.

Rammy must have had a right royal rollicking. They lift their game. Scott Burton is all over the pitch. He has poise, style and a change of pace. He bosses the midfield. The football they play is too tippy tappy for this gluepot of a surface. The crossing, creativity and end product is poor from the visitors.

The away fans are different class. They sing 'Oh Rammy United to the White Stripes 'Seven Nation Army.' They greet a goal chalked off for offside with a chorus of 'We thought we had scored, we were wrong, we were wrong. They make me chuckle.

There are a few scares in the Halesowen penalty box, but they fully deserve their win, often looking dangerous on the counter-attack. I bump into a Rammy fan on the way out. He is scathing about team selection and says Rammy played without fight or energy.

I check the final scores. Two late goals by NFFC have done for Norwich and Lincoln have been dumped out the FA Cup with a last gasp winner. It's a bad day at the office for Murphy and Sticky.

Attendance: 358

Man of the Match: Kristian Green

Many thanks to the volunteers who made this game possible.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Holbeach United 2-0 Gorleston

Gary Charles was a full back who played for Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. He often used to make marauding, overlapping runs. He was probably ahead of his time. In 1992 his life was turned upside down when his car was involved in a traffic accident with a cyclist, who tragically died. The footballer was cleared of any blame. It haunted Charles, whose life spiralled out of control. He turned to alcohol, as his career began to plummet. Despite turning out for Aston Villa, Benfica and West Ham, his potential was never really fulfilled.

It was while serving a sentence for assault in Rutland prison that he received a letter from his old roommate Roy Keane, saying that he wanted to look after Charles. After being released from prison, Keane invited him into his family home and got him involved in coaching at Sunderland. He took his coaching badges and now coaches at the University of Nottingham, as well as being a part time scout. He has also remained sober for a number of years. See, Roy Keane isn't a bad guy, after all.

It's Friday night, Halloween, and the doorbell doesn't stop bloody ringing. I've dished out more sweets than Norris Cole. Enough's enough, Murphy the budgie is dispatched to the door handle and put on sentry duty. He should keep those pesky kids away for a few hours.

 
The wee man is whistling his little canary yellow and green head off in the morning to The Jacksons 'Show You The Way To Go.' He's celebrating Norwich City's 2-1 win over the Trotters from Bolton. We share some crumpets and Marmite, soaked in butter. Trumpy Bolton will be tucking into a bottle of Tanglefoot and nibbling on chicken liver pate on toast for his breakfast. Dr Murphy helps me check my blood pressure, which has been sky high of late. Tablets have helped it return to its normal levels.

I turn up Spinney Road on the Keyworth Bronx. I spot a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses chatting to an old lady on her doorstep. Trumpy will be giving them short shrift if they have the brass neck to knock on his door. Christ that sun is bright today, hang on a minute, it's not the sun it's Trumpy Bolton in his new salmon pink Slazenger polo shirt. If it had Chang emblazoned on it I would have mistaken it for the old Everton away kit.

Graham Norton is immediately switched off, Bolton can't abide the Irishman. He's soon unscrewing the top off his plastic bottle of cider, while reeling off tales of his recent trip to Newcastle to watch his beloved Leicester City. He's turned down tickets for the King Power Stadium today, to spend the day with Sticky Palms. Trumpy returned home from a bender in Nottingham last Saturday to watch Leicester take Swansea on at the Liberty Stadium. He switched over to Strictly when the second goal went in, as he said it was 'more entertaining.'

First port of call is the Bull Inn at Bottesford, so I can take a quick snap of a plaque on the wall, which commemorates Laurel and Hardy's overnight stay at the pub in 1952, when Stan's sister Olga was landlady at the pub.

We come off the A1 close to the Adult Store, as Bolton's eyes light up. He has a pub to tick off in the tiny hamlet of Burton Coggles. He sticks his head through the kitchen window and gets chatting to a chef who's preparing lunch. The boozer doesn't open until midday. We finally roll up at a soulless and characterless Marston's new build on the outskirts of Bourne. Bolton necks two pints of Brakespear's Oxford Gold. It's an apple and mango J2O for Sticky.

Trumpy's eagle eye has spotted a Ginsters van parked up in the garage across the road. The driver is an old colleague of his. They have a chinwag for ten minutes, before we jump back in the 'Rolls Royce' and head into Holbeach.

 
The old market town isn't easy on the eye. We park up outside Holbeach United's Carters Park ground. A gang of youths are congregated outside the Eastern European Food and Drink shop. One is swigging from a bottle wrapped in a carrier bag. He wouldn't last five minutes in a drink-off with Trumpy.

We grab a window seat in the cosy Horse and Groom on the high street. We both sink a pint of Gangly Ghoul ale from the Greene King Brewery in Suffolk. Bolton scoffs a burger, whilst I mop up with a bacon and brie panini.

A black lady wearing a flat cap, tight blue jeans and leather boots is settling her bill at the bar. Trumpy reckons it's Beyonce.

 
It's a short stroll back to the ground. It's a gorgeous autumnal day. We pass the house where Nobel Peace Prize winner Sir Norman Angell was born. Holbeach is a fenland market town in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire, with a population of 10,000. Former shot putter and the World's Strongest Man, Geoff Capes was born in the town. I thought it best not to tell Murphy that Geoff is now famous for breeding budgies.

It's £6 on the gate. I snap up a programme and a strip of raffle tickets. I'd been tipped by Ackers that the ground is a good un; it doesn't disappoint. Spectators are tight to the pitch. I leave Trumpy in the bar and head over to the far side of the ground. I pitch up next to the Holbeach dugout. Their manager Graham Drury is talking up their Vase chances. They are 40/1 to win the trophy.

There's still no sign of Bolton as the teams walk out to the 'Eye of Tiger.' The Tigers of Holbeach begin the game at a frantic pace. They are roared on by wind-up merchant Drury. The woodwork is peppered twice and a goal is chalked off for offside. Gorleston offer very little apart from danger at set-pieces.

Trumpy has seen enough. He troops off back to the bar. The legend misses the opening goal of the game on the stroke of half-time, with a low left foot drive from Lee Beeson. I've had a little chat with The Gorleston Three and a Morecambe Town supporter from Spalding. It's the beauty of the Non League that you get to meet so many different people. I notice that Gorleston have had some famous players turn out for them in the past. Martin Peters, Dale Gordon and Robert Fleck are amongst them.

Holbeach are coasting in the second half. They score a beautifully executed goal through Jamie Clarke, after great work from raw youngster Lee Dube. Bolton fakes a groin injury when he clocks the female Tigers' physio. He's spent most of the second half chatting to Jake Duffy's Dad, who is from Leicester.

We slope off with five minutes remaining, there's more chance of Murphy supporting Ipswich Town than Gorleston hitting the onion bag today.

Man of the match: Roy Keane

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Desborough Town 0-1 Deeping Rangers

It's a miserable Monday lunchtime. I'm sat in the 'Rolls Royce' on an industrial estate in Loughborough. It's pelting it down with rain as I nibble on my cheese and ham sandwich. I'm scrolling through my twitter timeline as I listen to the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2. The BBC has just released results from a Price of Football Survey. I hear Vine bleating about Kidderminster charging £4.50 for a pie. I bet the fool has never even been to the Aggborough to sample it.

Ackers and I were guests of honour at Kidderminster Harriers v Cardiff City for a League Cup tie ten years ago. We were doing a tour of 108 grounds in England and Wales for charity. At the time it was £3 to buy this cottage pie that Vine is moaning about. It's the most famous delicacy in Non League football. Nigel Clough always ordered 20 portions for his Burton Albion players and staff each season for the coach journey home. I tweet Vine to redress the balance. He reads it out just before the one o'clock news. It cheers me up for the rest of the day.

I spent the other Tuesday night in the company of my good friend Jon Garton at Heanor Town, who were playing high-flying Tadcaster Albion. Nearly 280 folk turned out on a mild evening to watch a bruising encounter. Former Manchester United, WBA and Nottingham Forest midfielder Jonathan Greening played for Tadcaster. His brother Ricky is leading scorer for Albion in the Northern Counties East Premier League. The visitors deservedly won 2-1.

 
I'm reading a cracking book written by the journalist and author Charles Nevin, it's called 'Lancashire, Where Women Die of Love.' There's a chapter on the town of Ulverston, where Stan Laurel was born. Nevin mentions a pub in Bottesford on the Notts/Leics border that was run by Stan Laurel's sister Olga. Laurel and Hardy stopped the night there in 1952 before appearing the following day in Nottingham. There's a plaque on the wall that Trumpy Bolton and I will be driving over to see next Saturday, on our way to Holbeach for a FA Vase cup tie.

I'm struggling to come to terms that I no longer scout for Notts County. It was my decision, but Saturday mornings feel empty without meaning. I stumble upon Sooty's magic wand while I'm rummaging in some drawers. I break down in tears. I didn't mean to leave Sooty in the toilets in Guiseley. I hope he's okay.

Comedy genius Sticky jnr cheers me up with his attempts at rustling up a cooked breakfast. "Dad, how do you crack an egg?" I don't think James Martin needs to worry about his job on Saturday Kitchen. Junior has a big cup tie in the village of Underwood this afternoon, where the author D H Lawrence set many of his books. Murphy Palmer the budgie mops up some Marmite on toast before I dash out the house.

 
My mate Phil picks me up for the trip to Desborough. The Graham Norton Show is on the radio. Ultra Nate's 'Free' is blasting out the car stereo. Tom Tom takes us off the M1 at Fosse Park and onto the ring road. We pass Everards Brewery. I close my eyes and daydream about necking a pint of Sunchaser or Tiger.

I clock a sign for Aylestone Leisure Centre. Aylestone Park is a football club that former Leicester City striker and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker started his junior football career at before being spotted by the Foxes. We're soon on the A6 entering the village of Kibworth Beauchamp. We swing a right into the the Coach and Horses car park, which is being power washed by a young, disinterested lad.

We're treated like royalty by the landlord. I saw a few negative reviews on Trip Advisor. I'm only here for the beer. I down a pint of Wainwright from the Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn. We sit in the cosy bar. Tony Blackburn's Pick of the Pops is playing songs from 1972. The best by a country mile is 'Backstabbers' by The O'Jays. A bacon and brie sandwich and a basket of chips is a steal for £5.

Desborough is just over the Leicestershire/Northants border. It's between the towns of Market Harborough and Kettering and lies in the Ise Valley. It has a population of just over 10,000. We park across the road from a Co-op. The Desborough Co-operative Society was founded by local men in 1863. Sticky Palms loves the Co-op.

It's a short walk to the ground. It's £5 on the gate. I stump up £1 for a raffle ticket. I should be in with a shout, as I'm not expecting too many to show up today. The ground has seen better days, but this is what attracts me to it. It has low level cover behind the goal and up the nearest touch line. The Social Club is tucked away outside the ground. The old clubhouse was destroyed in a blaze back in 2008. It had a viewing gallery above the pitch. It has bags of soul and character.

 
The poor old PA guy is suffering a nervous breakdown. He plays a Boyzone CD and leaves it running. It's the first time I've contemplated suicide since Lincoln City appointed Chris Sutton as manager in 2009. It's too late for a refund, the teams have kicked off. Both clubs are mid-table, although Desborough have played more games.

The woodwork is rattled at both ends as the match begins at a frantic pace. The visitors are wasteful in front of goal, as chances are spurned. A shanked clearance flies over my head and ends up in the undergrowth. Folk are looking round at me to fetch it. Chuff that, I've got my £40 black winkle pickers on from Gordon Scott up Lister Gate in Nottingham.

Deeping take the lead with a beautifully executed goal. I grab a bottle of water at the break and watch the highlights of WBA v Everton on Setanta Sports in the Club. I'm gutted not to have won the wine, chocolates or biscuits in the raffle, as I notice the winning numbers chalked up on a blackboard.

Desborough are terrific in the second half and totally dominate the game. Deeping rely on blocks, clearances, saves and the occasional counter-attack. I watch the final 15 minutes sat on a wooden bench in the stand. I've thoroughly enjoyed the game.

Attendance: 54

Man of the Match: Sticky jnr who danced his way through Underwood MW and D H Lawrence.