Sunday, January 19, 2020

Cottesmore Amateurs 2-3 Allexton & New Parks FC

The FA Vase tie between South Normanton and Wroxham is in its dying embers. Visiting supporters chant, cheer and dance respectively, and in time, to the beat of a toy drum, hit with a stick of a joyous supporter. Grant Holt, he of Norwich City and Nottingham Forest fame, has turned this Cup game on its head, since his introduction from the bench, on the hour. The Shiners ('Normo') were running scared of the big man; showing Holt way too much respect and more importantly space. He silences the haters, who have hurled abuse at him all afternoon, with a virtuoso performance that rolls back the years.

We exit the ground, with minutes remaining, as it's obvious to all and sundry (apart from Club officials) that it will all kick-off at the final whistle. I barge my way through the 'South Normanton Big Babies Squad.' The terrace is strewn with cans of Bass Shandy. Their behaviour has brought shame and embarrassment on the Club. Or so I thought.

I tweet South Normanton to complain (there wasn't a steward in sight on our departure). They backheel the blame and refuse to accept responsibility for allowing and ignoring abusive hate-chanting. I'm immediately blocked by their Twitter account. I'm tipped the wink by a 'man in the know' of the name of the clown who runs their account. He's not so brave when challenged.

We're both delighted that Wroxham has made it through to the final sixteen of the FA Vase. Wembley is the prize, where the final two teams will tough it out. Sunday's blog is greeted with welcoming arms from the real footballing folk in Norfolk. The Chairman invites us to attend a game in the near future. I also learn that former Norwich City legendary left-back Adam Drury (wand of a left foot and 326 appearances) is The Yachtsmen's assistant manager and that Chris Sutton's lad also plays in the nets for Wroxham.

The blog didn't go down too well with the 'Baby Squad.' The English department at Frederick Gent Comprehensive School (in the village) has failed miserably if their grammar, spelling and punctuation is anything to go by, from the tweets aimed in my direction.

It's Tuesday evening and I'm sat in the 'Rolls Royce' outside 'The Taxman's' abode (mansion) in the village of Plumtree, where the greatest player I ever saw, John Robertson, once used to reside. 'The Taxman' traipses down his crazy-paved drive, throwing a couple of coats on the back seat before settling in 'shotgun.'

The brilliant Burnley-born broadcaster, Tony Livesey, is on Five Live's Drivetime show. As per chuffing usual BREXIT is the topic of conversation. I mention to 'The Taxman' of our recent trip to Sunderland and what the future holds for the city should the Nissan car plant close, as is widely predicted. Night shift has already been knocked on the head and 70% of cars produced are sold to the E.U.

Destination tonight is the love of my life, (Sincil Bank) home to the Mighty Imps. It's a team in transition. Flying winger, Bruno Andrade, has jumped ship to Salford City (could have graced the Championship) - with rumours of further departures for Michael O'Connor and fans' favourite Harry Toffolo.

I always park up on St Botolph's Crescent, just off Robey Street, as it's where my Nana spent her final years before passing away in 1994, at the age of 94 years old. I'm very superstitious when it comes to watching 'The Lincoln.' I've never seen them lose a League game when I've sat in the Selenity Stand, but tonight it's sold out. The only available seats left are in Block One of the Stacey West Stand (named after two supporters who lost their lives in the Bradford City Fire Disaster in 1985).

I'm always edgy and irritable before any Imps game. I was the same when I coached my local village team. A walk up the High Street takes my mind off it. The gates at the railway crossing are closed as the warning lights flash. A freight train with endless wagons chugs by towards a terminal on the east coast.

We take a left-hand turn down a narrow passage called The Glory Hole, adjacent to Lincoln's oldest cafe, Stokes, where I spent many a happy childhood hour with Grandma, Grandad and Mum. Tea is taken at ASK Italian on Brayford Wharf - 'The Lincoln' never lose when I dine here. The service is usually spot on - tonight it's an omnishambles. I hear a plate smash on the kitchen floor (my Ravioli) We're offered free drinks and told 'The Taxman's' 'chips are burnt'. After negotiation and use of a Tastecard, it's £20 all-in for two courses - not bad eh - I can't 'arf pick 'em.

We head towards Sincil Bank, turning left off High Street, onto Scorer Street, the birthplace of Lee Chapman, who scored 179 top-flight goals in England. Bloc Party, Shed Seven and The Charlatans are part of an excellent set by 'The Lincoln' DJ.

I had hoped to see the home debut of Arsenal loanee, Tyreece John-Jules, but sadly he took a knock at Shrewsbury on Saturday. He's the nephew of Sticky's favourite ever TV copper, 'Dwayne' (Danny John-Jules) off BBC One's Death in Paradise.

City's opening goal is to die for. There's a give and go. Toffolo whips a cross in which Harry Anderson reacts to the quickest, darting in from the right, catching the Bolton backline flat-footed, before planting his header into the roof of the net. It gets me jumping out of my seat.

Bolton have brought near on 1000 supporters; not bad for a school night, eh? They are second best for the first 45 minutes, but Lincoln can't finish 'em off. Manager, Keith Hill, makes a change at the break, with The Trotters coming out all guns blazing. They score a belter after good play by journeyman captain Daryl Murphy. They get on top and put City under the cosh. Shots rain in on the Imps goal, fortunately, most of them whistle over the bar.

The jury's out on Big John Akinde, but he proves to be a game-changer on the hour, with what might be his final ever game at Sincil Bank. Tyler Walker picks a ball up 22 yards out and unleashes an unstoppable swirling shot into the top right-hand corner. City run riot in the final five minutes scoring three times without reply. There's a spring in my step on the walk back to the car. The Taxman is mightily impressed with some of the 'Champagne football' Michael Appleton's men have displayed.

Friday night is spent 'early doors' in the Crafty Crow on Friar Lane, next to Nottingham Castle. Full Nelson, from the Wylam Brewery, based in Northumberland, is the pint of the season. We trudge up the hill past the old Nottingham General Hospital. Dinner is taken at Hart's Hotel. The food is to die for. Ms Moon has Sea Bass, whilst Sticky tucks into flat iron of beef. Stinky cheese is shared for dessert. It's the sublime to the ridiculous as we have a nightcap at Nottingham's best 'Spoons, The Roebuck Inn on St James's Street.

I drive up Carlton Road and sweep past the King Billy pub, another favourite of mine, in Sneinton. Today, Cottesmore Amateurs play Allexton New Parks in a top of the table clash in the Leicestershire Senior League. 'The Big Man' (the artist formally known as 'White Van Man' or Bish, lives on the 'Keyworth Bronx.' The view towards the village of Bradmore from his back garden, is ridiculous.

'The Big Man' drives like he's on the virtual reality game Grand Theft Auto. Corners are met on two wheels and everyone in the village gives way to him. To be fair, the trip to Leicestershire is steady, without incident and minus Century FM. He's happy as Larry after spending Christmas in the polar opposites of a blustery Newquay, Cornwall and the Canary Island of Tenerife.

Cottesmore is negotiated within 45 minutes. I take a few snaps as 'Bish' gets his walking boots on. It's £2 on the gate and the folk are very welcoming and friendly. A guy who looks like ex-Grandstand presenter Des Lynam gets gassing. I recognise him from the Notts groundhopping scene. He follows his son who is a referee's assistant in the East Midlands Counties League.

There is a lady assistant running the line today. When I coached last year she refereed one of our games. She was bloody brilliant and easily the best official we had all season. I've told 'Bish' that the game will be a cracker, and so it proves to be.

An 'official' from Allexton gets chatting to us. He says only having 10 men in the previous fixture versus Cottesmore cost them three points. My experience of this League hasn't been the best, with many a Red card waved by the man in black.

'Our Man' from Allexton has loads of gas. It's zipped up early on after a thunderbolt of a free-kick by the home 11 jacket. He gasps and comes up for air with a string of C-bombs. It gets worse for 'Our Man' with a two-footed lunge five yards from where we are stood. It's a straight 'Red' and more C-bombs.  Cottesmore go for the jugular but can't finish 'em off. Allexton are galvanized and restore parity before half-time. I grab two teas and some chocolate at the break. Incredibly they go 2-1 up and deservedly so too. The game is like a Cup tie, but Allexton, despite being a man down, want it more.

We meet an elderly gentleman with a camera. He asks us how old he is? Bish says 21 and I say 80. "88 and a half" he proudly announces, "and I've marked out this pitch for years".

Cottesmore make it 2-2 with a header from a corner. Allexton are first to everything and play with massive hearts. They win the game after a faux pas by the home 'keeper, who gifts a visiting forward the winning goal.

Attendance: One Man and His Dog

Man of the Match: Gentleman 88 and a half years old.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

South Normanton Athletic 1-3 Wroxham

It's 4.55 pm and I'm traipsing down eight flights of stairs at Sunderland's Stadium of Light. 'The Lincoln' have put in their worst 45-minute shift since 1983, when, in atrocious conditions, they found themselves 0-4 down at Sincil Bank to Newport County, with John Aldridge and Tommy Tynan both bagging a brace.

Ms Moon and I join the hordes of Sunderland fans walking back into town over Wearmouth Bridge. They are as happy as Larry and I'm as miserable as sin. I'm seething and ashamed of our performance. Moments later, as we approach the Premier Inn, we bump into a small group of Lincoln fans. We share a moan and a groan at our ineptness. An elderly 'gentleman' earwigs our conversation.

 "You were crap, you were." "Yeah I know mate, should have been 8-0 or 9-0 to you" You were crap, you were." "Yes, we were mate." (*How many more times?*) "Crap, that's what you were." Like you were at Sincil Bank mate when we cuffed you 2-0." "Crap" "Sacked your manager after that loss, didn't you?" Crap you are" he says one more time before disappearing into the night,                       

We enjoy a great night out in Sunderland and meet some lovely, down to earth folk in Isis, Museum Vaults, The Cooper Rose and Ivy House. We're back in Nottingham at just after pm on Sunday. I enjoy a couple of pints in the Bread and Bitter on Mapperley Tops before settling in for the evening and writing the blog. It goes down well with the Black Cats supporters. The hit counter has more than 2000 visits.

Tuesday night sees the return of a chipper Taxman to the groundhopping scene. He's full of beans about his beloved Nottingham Forest, who have won three League games on the bounce. He picks me up and we head out to Arnold (they actually play closer to Calverton, but have been shunted out of town away from their community).

It's a Notts Senior Cup tie versus Southwell City. It's a closely contested game with the visitors taking the lead through a 30-yard wind-assisted wonder strike by Tom Robinson. Arnold improve in the second half; using the wind to their advantage. They score three times without reply. It's a shame, as I like the visitors who encourage playing youth in their set up.

It's a big night on Thursday evening with the return of Death in Paradise on BBC One. Murphy the budgie used to love that show. He'd whistle his wee head off when he heard the theme tune. DI Jack Mooney has the case wrapped up two minutes shy of the 10 O'Clock BBC News bulletin.

I'm in the dentist's chair on Friday morning (not the one the England squad frequented in Hong Kong prior to Euro 96). Halfway through a deep cavity filling, I start waving frantically. "Are you in pain with the tooth, Sir?" "No, that's fine, but can you turn Radio 1Xtra off, please?  I can't abide RnB" I have a few pints at Kean's Head on St Mary's Gate and Head of Steam on High Pavement, in Nottingham city centre, as the numbness wears off, before suffering the Soaps back at the ranch.

The plan had been to travel up to Lancashire and take in Longridge Town versus Newark Flowserve in the FA Vase. I was anxious about the weather and didn't fancy another five-hour return car journey. We're both disappointed as we were looking forward to staying over in the picturesque town of Clitheroe. Newark will find it hard up there against Lee 'Peggy' Ashcroft's Longridge Town. Striker Greg Smith has departed for Gainsborough Trinity and the in-form Zak Goodson is ineligible for the tie.

I shoot up to Morrison's on Saturday morning as I'm rustling up a Chilli at Chez Sticky's this evening. The brilliant Colin Murray is hosting Fighting Talk on BBC Five Live. I used to love his show on talkSPORT until Jim White rode into town with his name-dropping and click-bait tweets. I'm going to work at Morrisons once I retire (or get sacked) from the world of selling Governance, Risk and Compliance software. I'll be like Reg Holdsworth off Corrie, when he got the gig at Freshco's, after a successful spell replacing 'Big Alf Roberts' at the Corner Shop.

I whizz around the aisles throwing in all the ingredients into my trolley. I usually ask other customers if I can't find a product. I don't like to bother the staff. A little girl is having a tantrum and has been sent to the naughty step at the back of the tills. Her bottom lip is trembling and her face is twisted and contorted. It reminds me of 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' when I used to sub him on 65 minutes to save him getting sent off or sin-binned.

We hit the road at 2 pm. We go up the back way onto the A60 towards Mansfield. I immediately tune into Paul Gambacinni's Pick of the Pops on Radio 2 - it knocks the spots off 1Xtra. 'Gambers' is on a roll. The year is 1993. He plays Jesus Jones, Lisa Stansfield (that mole, eh?), The Prodigy and The Frank and Walters from Cork in Ireland. I'm tapping my feet as we drive through the village of Linby. I'm saddened to see red paint daubed on the Horse and Groom pub frontage in a senseless act of vandalism. It's a village close to my heart as I spent three happy years there, in the mid-80s, working at the coal mine.

South Normanton Athletic have asked folk not block up Lees Lane and cheese off the residents. We pull into The Hub and park up for free in there. It's £6 on the gate. I buy a couple of 50/50 tickets too.
There's a hum about the place; the FA Vase final will be played at Wembley. It's the once in a lifetime dream of any amateur footballer.

South Normanton is an ex-mining village in the Bolsover District of Derbyshire, with a population just shy of 10,000. Framework knitting was another of their main industries. It is also home to the East Midlands Designer Outlet (McArthur Glen).

The Monocled Mutineer, Percy Toplis, was educated in South Normanton. He was superbly played by Paul McGann in a BBC dramatization in 1986. He was a criminal, murderer and imposter, who posed as an Army Captain whilst on leave from the First World War. On 6th June 1920, whilst on the run, Toplis was shot dead by a police officer from Cumberland. He's buried in an unmarked grave near the top of Penrith's Beacon Edge (I'll let Ms Moon hunt that one down).

Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, Jordan Smith, is from the village too. When the Tricky Trees signed him he was an outfield player and only 10 years old. He's turned into a fine 'keeper and will certainly make a living from the game in League One or League Two.

South Normanton Athletic (originally known as South Normanton Miners Welfare) were founded in 1926 and are nicknamed The Shiners. I usually attend evening games when the temperatures are at their lowest.

The ground is situated on top of a hill and is susceptible to windy conditions. A St George's flag, hoisted up a pole, flutters in the stiff breeze. Bolsover has a Tory MP for the first time in history and people voted in this District to Leave the EU with 70% of the vote.

We get gassing to some Wroxham fans who have made the 260 mile round trip from Norfolk. They are lovely people and proper footballing folk. I say to them that I fancy their chances, but 'Normo' won't give them an inch, so they will have to earn a victory.

We do a lap of the ground and bump into former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt. I tell him I really enjoyed his anecdotes on the brilliant Undr the Cosh podcast and wish him good luck today.

We position ourselves on the far side of the ground out of the breezy conditions. 'Normo' kick down the slope with the wind at their backs. It's not long before a group of 15-20 lads start hurling abuse at the visiting support and in particular Grant Holt, who is sat on the sub's bench on the far side. The 'Normo' Neanderthals sing: "We are Normo. We are Vile. Grant Holt is a paedophile"

We're both appalled and shocked by this. The visiting support are told to 'go home and play with your kids.' There's a string of abuse hurled in their direction. A massive hat tip to the away following who carry on singing their amusing ditties.

On the pitch, Wroxham look lively from the off. 'Normo' score against the run of play with a strike by Hanslow, that somehow deceives the 'keeper. I'm a tad disappointed in Wroxham (The Yachtsmen) who pass it around without any urgency or final ball. Half time arrives and Ms Moon treats herself to a Mayfair Sky Blue tab in the 'Smoking Shelter.' I put my head around the clubhouse door, the Team Leader of the 'Normo Neanderthals' is lining up shots of Bass Shandy. I ask Ms Moon if we can start up a chant of 'Percy Toplis ... he's one of your own?' She says it's for the best that we don't.

Wroxham are getting nowhere as 'Normo' keep a stranglehold on the game. On the hour there's movement on the bench. Big Grant, who signed a professional wrestling contract back in May 2018, is thrown into the fray.

The Shiners drop deeper and fear Holt. Wroxham rally and start to play. They equalise from a corner on 65 minutes with a bullet header that hits the roof of the net. Back come 'Normo' who have given their all and have been a credit to the village (unlike the yobs). Hanslow sees a shot blocked with the feet of the visiting 'keeper.

I say to a groundhopper, stood next to me, that Holt will only need one opportunity. A ball is clipped to the far post and headed back towards the burly striker, who nods it into the far corner. He brushes away his colleagues and runs up the hill towards the unruly mob, who have given him dog's abuse. We clap and cheer as he cups his ear at his detractors. There's no comeback from the 'Baby Squad,' as they retrieve their spat out dummies.

Wroxham put the tie to bed, at the fag end of the game, as we make a hasty exit, with trouble looming. Credit to both sets of players for putting on a show. What a shame the Club chose not to deal with the morons who brought shame on their village. Not a steward in sight, on our side of the ground, for the whole game.

Attendance: 172 (Need Rachel Riley to re-count that)

Men and Women of the match: Wroxham Supporters - real football fans. Good luck next round.

NB: The Non-League Paper reported unsavoury scenes after the match with fighting and the police called. More on this next week. For sure, I won't be visiting Lees Lane again. I'm blocked on Twitter by the Official account for telling the truth.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Sunderland 3-1 Lincoln City

It's Saturday 21st December and I'm slumped in my armchair, staring out of a rain-drenched French window, at the patio, which is awash with puddles of rainwater. My bottom lip is out and proper quivering folks. I've announced on social networks (and more importantly, by mistake, in a drink-related conversation to Ms Moon) that I'm done with football until the New Year. I've clocked up 75 games for the season and need to recharge my batteries. Ms Moon has plans for retail parks, food halls, luncheon and the cinema - holy moly, pray for Sticky.

I scroll through my twitter timeline, that's clogged up with postponements and pitch inspections. I'm alerted to a 'GAME ON' tweet from Newark Flowserve, a club I've taken a keen interest in recently. Another one of my favourite clubs, Sporting Khalsa, from the West Midlands, are the visitors. I ask Ms Moon is she fancies lunch at the Prince Rupert on Stodman Street, in Newark town centre, followed by some Christmas food shopping at Waitrose. The good lady falls for it hook, line and sinker.

The game is a Christmas cracker with Flowserve romping home 4-1. We're stood next to the mother of Khalsa centre half Tesfa Robinson. They'll be no tea on the table for him when he gets home and he'll be sent straight to bed after that showing.

Like most folk, I spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day boozing and eating. I'm relieved to receive a text from 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' (Sticky jnr) to say he has a spare ticket for Forest v Blackburn at The City Ground on New Year's Day.

Sticky jnr and I haven't seen NFFC win (on 15 occasions) when we've sat together, since a Matt Derbyshire late winner versus 'Dirty Leeds' in December 2013. The omens don't look good as we take our seats in the Brian Clough Lower Stand, despite back-to-back wins for the Tricky Trees at Hull City and lowly Wigan Athletic at home, which by all accounts was fortuitous.

Forest take a 2-0 lead through goals by Joe Lolley and Lewis Grabban. Blackburn keep plugging away and play a beautiful game of two-touch football. They carve open the Forest midfield with the industry, lung-bursting runs and skill displayed by former Man Utd and Oxford Utd attacking midfielder Joe Rothwell. They peg one back before half time. Grabban restores a two-goal cushion with a majestic header, finishing off a flowing move. A Joe Worrall own goal breathes fresh life into the visitors as NFFC hang on in a dramatic finale.

It's Friday evening and I'm sat in my favourite taproom in Nottingham's Creative Quarter in Sneinton Market. Neon Raptor are knocking out some award-winning craft ales. I get stuck into a pint of 'Night Time Radio', a New England pale ale at 4.8% ABV. A bloke dressed in a black Harrington jacket saunters up to the bar, as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club blares out of the pub's sound system. He samples a couple of rocket fuel ales before pointing at his two taps of choice. He turns around, flashes me a smile, walks in my direction and shakes my hand.

Tony 'Dog' McDonald is a legend from my old village back in the day. He had a cultured left foot and used to manage the local pub teams in a Mike Bassett kind of style (a bit like myself  ... saying it straight). Players used to respond to his honesty, and referees were respected. I mention that I'm up in Sunderland tomorrow. 'Dog' says how much he despises Newcastle United. It's a grudge he's held since a 1974 FA Cup 6th Round tie between the Magpies and Forest which was declared void following a pitch invasion by Geordie hooligans with the score at the time being 3-1 to NFFC. Newcastle won 4-3, but on appeal, the FA made the decision for the tie to be replayed on neutral territory.

After two replays Forest lost narrowly 1-0 to a Malcolm McDonald goal at Everton's Goodison Park. We enjoy a few pints and even nip next door to the Fox and Grapes before I hop on the No.27 bus back up to Carlton, as I have an early start tomorrow as we head up to the north-east. We're on the road up to Sunderland by 9.30 a.m. We refuel with petrol and Costa Coffee at Ollerton as Helen Skelton plays the song of the day, 'It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over' by Lenny Kravitz.

One of the greatest managers in the history of the game has a memorial in the village of Hetton-le-Hole, his birthplace, that sits seven miles outside Sunderland. Bob Paisley made 254 appearances for Liverpool and went onto manage the club for nine years, winning three European Cups, one UEFA Cup, five Football League titles and three League Cup finals. The memorial stone is situated in the main park in the village. I wander up the road to take a look at the memorial for the mineworkers too.

We're soon parked up at the Premier Inn Sunderland City Centre. Back in June, when I was in a meeting at work, I received a text of all Lincoln's fixtures for the season. I immediately booked the hotel for a bargain £39 for the night on the cheapest Saturday of the year. I'm a lucky lad though, as I completely forgot it was FA Cup third round day - both clubs fell at the first hurdle.

We get well wrapped up, with a biting wind blowing in from the North Sea, and head into the city centre. Lunch is taken at the Keel Lounge where I have a hissy fit due to hearing 'She's the One' by Robbie Williams on the i-Pod shuffle three times on the bounce. I ask Ms Moon if my blood pressure tablets are in her handbag.

The walk to the ground is a joy to behold. We join thousands of fans from both clubs as we cross the Wearmouth Bridge. I take a few snaps of the Bob Stokoe statue with memories of his trademark beige raincoat and pork pie hat after their shock 1-0 FA Cup final win against 'Dirty Leeds' at Wembley in 1973.

Sunderland is a city in Tyne and Wear that sits in the mouth of the River Wear. It lies 12 miles north-east of Durham and 10 miles south-east of Newcastle. It has a population of 175,000. Notable people from the area include: actors James Bolam, and Melanie Hill, writer James Herriot, inventor of the electric light bulb, Joseph Swan, BBC War reporter Kate Adie, singers Lauren Laverne, Emeli Sande and David A Stewart from Eurythmics, footballers Nigel Clough, Michael Gray, Mick Harford, Micky Hazard, Jordan Henderson and Jill Scott and former England Test cricketer Bob Willis who recently passed away.

Sunderland AFC were founded in 1879 and are nicknamed the Black Cats. I visited their old Roker Park ground twice in the space of four days in the Easter Holidays of 1979 - one of those games was a 3-0 victory over Notts County. The biggest transfer fee they ever received was £30 million from Everton for Jordan Pickford, who I saw make a spectacle of himself at Sincil Bank earlier this season. Record transfer fee shelled out was for Didier Ndong for £17 million from French club FC Lorient. Old 'Big 'Ead, Brian Clough, scored 54 goals in 61 appearances for Sunderland in the early 60s before injury curtailed his career.

We're sat up in the Gods at a bargain-priced £20 per ticket. An excellent programme is purchased for £3. 'The Lincoln' have plummeted down the table since the untimely departure of the man who saved our Club, Danny Cowley. There has been a change in playing philosophy and an upturn in form of late with wins against Burton, Peterborough and Ipswich. The jury is out on the new incumbent Michael Appleton until he makes moves in the January transfer window.

The DJ warms up the large away following (over 3000) with ABC, Primal Scream and The Charlatans. The Lincoln fans ramp up the atmosphere with a rendition of 'Twist and Shout by The Beatles.

The warning signs for the Imps are there for all to see from the first blow of the referee's whistle. They are pinned back in their own half and survive by the skin of the teeth before the opening goal on 19 minutes, which has been threatening to arrive for a while. Poor marking from a corner sees an uncontested header converted by Tom Flanagan.

'City' are all at sea and second to everything. There's no energy or heart to their play. Sunderland's second goal on 23 minutes is comedy gold. Josh Vickers plays a short goal kick to Jason Shackell, who passes out to Harry Toffolo, who returns the ball to Shackell, who in turn passes back to Vickers on his weaker foot. Vickers is closed down quickly by a Sunderland forward. He shanks his clearance straight against his opponent, the ball loops up into the air and is nodded home by Gooch (not Graham Gooch,) although he'd have scored it too. Ms Moon looks away from me as I hold my head in hands.

The unthinkable happens six minutes later. The Sunderland 'keeper kicks the ball like a mule down the centre of the pitch, a crestfallen Shackell, still recovering from his previous faux pax, lets the ball sail over his head, Gooch pounces onto his error and finishes with ease. Not even half an hour is on the clock and we're already dead and buried. Ms Moon rummages in her handbag, but there's no sign of the BP tablets for a raging Sticky Palms.

You can hear a pin drop in the away end. The bloke next to me, who has already cheesed me off by arriving late and digging his elbows into my ribs, begins to gesticulate at Michael Bostwick as he limps off the field of play. "You don't fancy it do you Bostwick?" he shouts out before checking his phone which has an action photo of Bostwick as a screensaver. I'm aghast and lost for words at half-time (not like you Sticky). I receive a tweet from a mate at work asking if I'm in Wetherspoons Sunderland yet - on this evidence City have had a Trumpy Bolton 'breakfast' there.

The second half is a salvage job. Tyler Walker taps in his 13th goal of the season, following good work by Harry Anderson. But despite Sunderland looking nervy for ten minutes or so, the damage has already been done. "We've made 'em look like Brazil" I remark as we exit the ground with seconds remaining.

Attendance: 31,748

Man of the Match: Bob Paisley

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Belper Town 2-1 Carlton Town

We exit the car park at Consett AFC and head towards the city of Durham. The visitors from Manchester, Wythenshawe Town, can feel flattered that they only lost 1-0. Consett will entertain Lutterworth Town, from Leicestershire, in the next round of the FA Vase. On the Road to Wembley.

I get anxious, feel my stomach churning and butterflies kicking in, as I flick on Five Live's Sports Report. My team, Lincoln City, were 1-0 up earlier in the afternoon when I last checked my phone. We've been on a dreadful run of form since Danny Cowley left (there, I said his name). I punch the air and whoop in delight when I hear that Tyler Walker has scored his 10th goal of the season, at the fag end of the game, to see us home and hosed at Nigel Clough's Burton Albion.

We check-in at the Royal County Marriott Hotel, in the city centre. There's a lovely vibe about the place as families and friends gather and Christmas parties commence. I slope off for a couple of pints, whilst the good lady powders her nose and watches Tipping Point ... lol.

I tick off The Shakespeare and Head of Steam, from out of the Good Pub Guide. I smile when I see Man Utd are 2-0 up against Man City in the tea-time kick-off - the OGS haters will be deleting back-dated tweets.

Ms Moon loves a Strongbow at a 'Spoons and I'm quite taken with guest real ales on at £2.15 a pint. A lass on Reception, at the hotel, has tipped us The Bishops' Mill on Walkergate Leisure, close to the waterfront. We're met with a scene of utter carnage - a war zone. A few skirmishes are dealt with swiftly by security. A girl sat next to us, sinks to her knees and gives a world-class performance in projectile vomiting  - on further inspection, after she's been carted off, it seems the Purple Rain cocktail hasn't gone down too well, as it trickles its way down towards the front gate.

It's Tuesday evening and I've just hopped onto the No.27 bus into town (Nottingham). It's teeming it down with rain and I've time on my hands. I don't usually watch football through beer goggles, but I fancy a couple of jars in the Six Barrels Victoria. The rain eases off as I wander through town and onto London Road, passing Hooters, where I had a good night out with the Ideagen Baby squad, a few months ago, for the Man Utd v Arsenal game.

Sticky Palms' track record at The City Ground in the last few years has been nothing short of abysmal. My usual sparring partner, Sticky jnr (my lad) has opted to attend a spin class rather than sit with Dad and put himself through the wringer, watching his beloved Tricky Trees. He usually boots the seat in front of him when the inevitable winner or equaliser is scored late on in the game, during our visits. The away fans get the middle finger, Rodney Trotter style, as he exits the stadium, with Dad usually sheepishly trudging behind him- *read recent NFFC v Hull City blog for said scenario*

I take my seat in 'B' block of the Peter Taylor Stand,  There's a subdued mood around the joint, despite a tune from the cult punk band the Sex Pistols booming out of the sound system. An injury-ravaged Middlesbrough could roll over and surrender, to lift my City Ground curse.

Forest never really get going. I've had enough viewings to form an opinion. Their game is possession-based. Very few players are prepared to take a risk apart from the impressive Sammy Ameobi. They take a 1-0 lead with a header from Lincoln-born Ryan Yates, a boy who was at the Academy at 7 years old. They fail to go for the jugular and finish the visitor's off. The inevitable happens when a pinpoint pass cuts the defence in two. Jack Robinson clips the heels of an attacker, leaving Paddy McNair to do the rest, with a spot-kick which earns Jonathan 'Bungalow' Woodgate's 'Boro a point they barely deserve.

There's a cameo role for £13 million record signing Joao Carvalho. I've been berated in the past on this blog by Tricky Trees fans for my criticism of the diminutive, light-weighted Portuguese attacking 'midfielder'. He flatters to deceive and his stats don't add up. Martin O'Neill tried to move him on and it appears that Sabri Lamouchi's patience is running out too.

It's Friday and the day of the Christmas Office Party. I'm the oldest by a country mile in the Inside Sales team at Ideagen PLC. I'm duty-bound to keep an eye out on the Baby Squad. We've booked an area at Southbank City, on Friar Lane, for a bargain-priced £5 per head, which includes some finger food. I fire an email out to one and all to say it might be worth having some snap before hitting the 'Sauce,' I've seen one or two stretcher cases in 35 years worth of festive celebrations.

A good night is had by all 35 of us. We're made very welcome and are well looked after by the bar and catering staff. 'Our Joe' (second born) has been potting a few. A bloke at the bar waves me over and says he'd like to talk to me about Non-League football. I ask as to how he's aware of my interest. "Oh, that's easy mate, your lad told me, he's over there chatting up my daughter."  I make a sharp exit. The party moves onto the Slug and Lettuce in the Market Square (the artist previously known as Yates's Wine Lodge.' It's where the night ends for Sticky Palms. Grime music does my duck in!

Ms Moon is propped up by the wall of the Ned Ludd public house on Friar Lane and is looking worse for wear (Office Party too) We get her belted up in the back seat. I try to chit chat with the West Indian taxi driver, but he's not having any of it and prefers to listen to his FBI files podcast about bank robbers on his phone. I can't even distract him when I drop out a gem that Sir Vivian Richards was a guest speaker at my local cricket club the other week.

'The Princess' is 'lying in state', looking ghost white and unresponsive in the morning. I check her pulse before firing up the grill and knocking up an award-winning Cumberland sausage sandwich. The fridge is stocked up with a recent shipment of Beer 52 craft ales, so all's good for this evening's Strictly Come Dancing final. The good lady fails a late fitness test, missing out on a trip up to Belper.

I head up the M1 and turn off at Junction 28 onto the A38. Juliette Ferrington is reporting from Anfield for Five Live as rock bottom Watford miss a hatful of chances. First port of call is the Dead Poets Inn at Holbrook, up in the Derbyshire hills. I enjoy a pint of Cascade real ale in front of a roaring fire at this cosy pub, with its nooks and crannies.

I pay to park the car in Belper as parking looks limited at the ground. Belper is a town in the Amber Valley district of Derbyshire with a population of just over 20,000. It was well known for its nail-making and textile mills. It's a safe Tory seat with a majority of over 15,000 (incredibly Mansfield is the same too #BREXIT). Notable folk born or raised in Belper include: Timothy Dalton (James Bond), Tracy Shaw (Maxine Peacock off Corrie  .... "I say Ashley") Ron Webster (ex D***y County, 455 League appearances) and Suzy Kendall (first wife of Dudley Moore),

Belper Town are nicknamed The Nailers and were founded in 1883 (a year before my beloved Lincoln City). They play their games at Christchurch Meadow. I haven't been in over 13 years. Skelmersdale Town, from the north-west, were the visitors. They had a tricky winger playing that day whose quick feet, pace and footballing prowess blew my mind. His name was Craig Noone who went onto play for Plymouth, Brighton, Cardiff and Bolton. It was reported that Cardiff splashed out £1 million for his services - I can't arf pick 'em.

It's £9 on the gate (sorry Belper, you're a great club, but £9, even in Tory Land is too much), I don't bother with a programme and there's no sign of a raffle ticket or 50/50 draw person. The ground is a snorter with the backdrop to the mill a standout feature.

The Nailers have enjoyed a profitable FA Cup run. They pulled a plum tie, out of the hat, away at Notts County. Have a look at Danny Gordon's strike on youtube. Carlton, the visitors, a place I now reside in, have been the League's surprise package this season. They arrive here, though, on the back of a heavy loss to Leek Town last week. It'll be good to see if there is a positive reaction.

There isn't. The Millers are bullied early doors by a towering forward line. They panic in possession and flap around at set-pieces. They are in debt to 'keeper Jack Steggles and his acrobatics that the score is kept to 1-0 on 44 minutes. Carlton have a corner that's cleared to Belper centre forward Evan Garnett, who is being marshalled by two defenders. He shows them a clean pair of heels and puts Belper 2-0 up. I daren't even look at Tommy and Mark (Carlton Management) they'll be sick to the pit of their stomachs that 'we' couldn't run the clock down for half-time.

Whilst Tommy and Mark get the blow torch out, I go for a warm-up in the clubhouse. I notice Tranmere Rovers are down to ten men at Sincil Bank. I'm alerted by Barthez (whose kind offer of a free ticket I declined this morning) that NFFC are 0-4 down to the Owls at The City Ground.

The Millers of Carlton, fresh from the 'hairdryer' treatment, go through the gears and up the tempo in the second half. Tom Maddison (ex Keyworth Utd) is spraying the passes around the park and cult blog legend Oliver Clarke (Sticky loves him to bits) struts his stuff with his 50/50 wins, surging runs, deft touches and intelligent play,

Maddison cooly dispatches a penalty kick as Carlton turn up the heat. The game's best player is Niall Davey, a roaming left-footer for The Millers. He's found space and wriggled his way through a sea of players all afternoon. How he hasn't been spotted higher up the Pyramid, God only knows. The Belper bench is alerted to this. A coach bellows out instructions to all and sundry to pick up 'Number 11.'

Time runs out and the final whistle is blown by a referee who has been harangued all afternoon. Belper shade it, as Carlton pay the price for a poor first-half showing. I've loved every minute of it. What an advert it has been for the Non-League game.

Attendance: 237

Man of the Match: Niall Davie

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Consett A.F.C. 1-0 Wythenshawe Town

It's the Easter holidays in 1978 and I'm up in Durham, north-eastern England, with a schoolmate and his parents in the coal-mining village of Stanley. The local folk are so warm and friendly. I fall in love with the dialect and the local delicacies such as pease pudding. All the mineworkers and their families make me feel so welcome at the Welfare, where bingo numbers are called out and bands sing on the stage.

We visit Sunderland's Roker Park twice, on Good Friday and Easter Monday - they played three games over four days, back in the day - there's no moaning or groaning like the namby-pamby managers, coaches and players of today.

The final day is spent in the picturesque city of Durham, with its cobbled streets and stunning cathedral.  In the distance, we can hear a drum being played, accompanied by some handclapping and singing. We're accosted by a shaven-headed lady wearing a long orange robe. Who the chuff is Hare Krishna? We sign up for a newsletter, just to get rid of them, to be honest. They say they'll send one every week. I give a false name; actually, it was my mate Ackers whose address I gave them. I vow to return to Durham, one day when I can enjoy the culture, history and of course the real pubs it has on offer. It will be another 40 years before I return. And I will raise a glass to my friend, who took his own life - God bless you.

I chill out on a sofa, at work, on Monday at lunchtime. I impatiently tap the table, with my fingers, as I await the draw for the next round of the FA Vase. I'm hoping Sporting Khalsa, who we saw knockout Heanor Town in a pea-souper of a fog, last Saturday, get an away tie (they play on 3G) I peruse the draw and notice there's a replay up at Consett, Durham, next Saturday, when Wythenshawe Town travel up from Manchester. "You fancy a weekend in Durham, Ms Moon?"

Talking of the FA Vase, last weekend's tie between AFC Mansfield and Newark Flowserve was frosted off. It gives me the opportunity of taking in the rearranged fixture on Tuesday evening. It's a chippy tea, at the award-winning Oceans Fish Bar, at the bottom of Carlton Hill, before zipping up the A60 towards Mansfield.

I arrive at Clipstone Road West, ten minutes shy of kick-off. I pay £7 on the gate ( OUCH, but after all Mansfield is Tory. Can you ever imagine saying that?) The ground isn't very well lit. There's a reason for this; the floodlights are out. The spare battery isn't working and neither is the generator. I'm cursed at this ground. I saw previous occupants, Forest Town, play out a 0-0 draw with Calverton Miners' Welfare a few years back - Sticky doesn't do 0-0s (very often).

There's no PA system, so it's all Chinese whispers, on the circuit, as to whether the game will take place or not. Word is, that the Ref has said that 8.30pm will be the cut-off time. Rumours circulate that an electrician has been called out. After a few false starts the generator kicks in and the floodlights spark up. I'm chilled to the bone. It's freezing folks oop North.

Newark Flowserve, who I've heard on the grapevine aren't very happy with my comments on their performance at Long Eaton t'other night, look fired up for this excellent cup tie. They come from behind and play a beautiful game of football in the second half. Kyle Dixon, who I had down the Pies when he was ten years old, is excellent in the engine room. The Highwaymans' reward for victory is a 272 mile round trip up to Longridge in Lancashire - I'm hoping to be there to cheer them on as they continue to fly the flag for Nottinghamshire.

It's Friday evening and I've sloped off from work 15 minutes early ( if the CEO is reading this, and he does), I put 12 hours in yesterday - phew. I jump on the No.27 bus, opposite the Nags Head - a pub I never frequent. I alight the bus, just up from Pryzm, a nightclub, where a few nights ago there was another senseless stabbing, with fingers pointing squarely at a pathetic Nottingham postcode gang warfare.

I buy a few Christmas presents before heading over to the west side of town. I stroll up Friar Lane, past Southbank City, where I'll be getting spangled at the Office Party next Friday. I cross over Maid Marian Way towards the Magpie Brewery's Crafty Crow. A bald-headed gent is propping up the bar (don't worry Sticky it's not Hare Krishna) it's Tony 'Dogman' McDonald, a Keyworth Tavern legend, with a wand of a left foot and the drinking capabilities of Trumpy Bolton. 'Dogman' loves his gigs and following England at Wembley Stadium. I casually let it slip that I'm meeting one of our bezzy mates from back in the day, 'Babs', at the Ned Ludd, at 7 p.m - Tony hasn't seen 'Babs' for over 25 years. I feel like Eammon Andrews from This is Your Life as they embrace one another minutes later.

We spend the rest of the evening at The Salutation Inn on Main Street in Keyworth, where Babs and I grew up (he lives in Spain now). It's the birthday of the Mayor of Keyworth. We sink a few beers as Nottingham Forest fall at the final hurdle at the New Den.

I book a taxi with DG at 10.30 p.m, mindful of the early start to Durham in the morning. "How are you doing, mate?" asks the taxi driver, as I slump into the back seat of the car. It's Hubert, a lad I was in Tenerife on holiday a few weeks ago. We re-tell a few tales of an epic Sunday on the lash when Liverpool turned over Man City.

I arrive home to a scene of utter chaos at 'Sticky Towers.' Ms Moon, best friend, Jill and 'Young Lily' are dancing around their handbags to  'Lay All Your Love On Me' by Abba on the youtube jukebox - circa Madison's on Goldsmith Street in 1982, when folk didn't shank one another up - preferring a punch-up instead. Another taxi is called and Ms Moon is sent up the 'Wooden Hill' whilst Sticky Cleaning Services (Mrs Doubtfire) springs into action to clear up the debris.

The following morning Ms Moon is worse for wear. I rustle up scrambled eggs for one before we head oop North. Graham Norton is talking poppycock to a wine expert on his Radio 2 show. I see Ms Moon turn a whiter shade of pale, so change the station to Heart 80s.

The journey is without incident. We park up outside Langley Park Cemetery, a village that sits in between Durham and Consett. There are only a few graves, so the one we are looking for should be a cinch to find.

He was raised in Langley Park, the son of a coal miner. His house was two-bedroomed, had no bathroom but there was an outside toilet. He went onto play for Fulham and WBA, before managing Ipswich Town, England, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto, Barcelona and his beloved Newcastle United. Sir Bobby Robson was more than a manager; he was ahead of his time. I feel the hairs on my neck and my heart skip a beat when Ms Moon alerts me to his gravestone. There's no airs and graces on his memorial. 'In Loving Memory of Sir Bobby Robson'. A tear falls from my cheek as I turn away from Ms Moon.

Lunch is taken at a hidden gem of a pub called the Travellers Rest in Consett. The real ale is flowing and the staff are so friendly, as we tuck into a fish finger sandwich and chicken fajitas, whilst watching Huddersfield Town, managed by 'He Who Must Not Be Named' (Danny Cowley .. Doh!) go down fighting 2-0 to Leeds United (the artist previously known as 'Dirty Leeds')

Ms Moon nips into Lidl, at a nearby retail park, as Sticky Palms pays £7 on the gate. I grab a couple of 50/50 tickets and donate to a bucket collection for the Under 8s. Consett is a town in County Durham, 14 miles south-west of Newcastle. It's well-known for its steel-making industry - it manufactured the steel to construct Blackpool Tower. Famous people from the area include: Rowan Atkinson, football referee Mark Clattenburg, cricketer Paul Collinwood, ex Sunderland Chairman, Bob Murray, and former footballer Barry Venison.

I stroll around the ground and bump into two-year-old Sprocker spaniel Grace, who was bred in Barnsley. Her tail is wagging in excitement for the game to commence. It's flippin' freezing folks and I've under-clubbed on the clothes front, as a biting chill blows in from the hills. I thaw out in the Clubhouse where I'm greeted with the news by Ms Moon that a multi-pack of salt and vinegar Snack a Jacks have been snapped up from the supermarket.

The game is played on a 3G surface (I usually boycott them). The Notts FA award cup finals to a Club who have one. Lads, last year, played games in 80 degrees on them ... lol. I understand why at a place like Consett, as it benefits the whole community and not one man's pocket.

The first half is lacklustre and devoid of any entertainment. The visitors look disinterested and enjoy wasting time (why?)  The Number 9 for Wythenshawe is a big girl's blouse (can you still say that?). He rolls around the floor as if shot by a sniper. The referee is having none of it. I thought they were hard, up in Manchester?

It's 0-0 at the break, but we're enjoying the company and wisdom of an elderly gentleman stood next to us. I love meeting folk like this, whose whole week builds up towards a game of football. We're assured that Consett will improve in the second half as they kick towards our end - he isn't wrong.

Chances go begging as Consett up the tempo. With 0-0 and extra-time looking on the cards a wonderful goal is scored from outside of the area by the home 9 jacket which sends the home fans into raptures and into the next round where Lutterworth Town from Leicestershire will be the visitors.

Attendance: 404

Man of the Match; Sir Bobby Robson