Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nottingham Vets 10- 4 Cambridge Vets

It's Tuesday May 23rd and just after dawn. I'm woken from a deep sleep by Ms Moon who has just come out of the bathroom: "Babe, something awful has happened in Manchester, I thought you'd want to know." I sit bolt upright in bed and press the BBC News app. I'm updated on the sickening atrocity that has taken place in the foyer of the Manchester Arena. A terrorist has detonated a shrapnel-laden bomb as parents and children exit the arena. 22 are dead, 119 injured - 23 critically.

Like most people, I'm barely able to function at work, as I think about the poor folk involved and the loss and maiming of their family and friends. Fundraising is immediately set up, but I'm at a loss at how I can help. Manchester is a city that both Ms Moon and I are very fond of.

I know a guy called Roberto Pietraforte. He is a big cheese, with legendary status to match Robin Hood on the local football scene. He has managed more clubs than Gary Megson. If you scroll down his Wikipedia page with your mouse looking at the clubs he's been involved with, your index finger will get repetitive strain injury (only joking Roberto). What I love about the guy is that he's never been in it for the success, kudos and win at all costs mentality of some I could mention. He just loves the beautiful game and mentoring folk who haven't had the easiest start in life.

Roberto's AC Wollaton Facebook charity page has caught my attention. For some time now his teams have raised money for kids with cancer. People pay for the right to wear the shirt of his team. The Italian Stallion announces he's going to raise money for the victims of the Manchester Bombing. Count me in pal.

It's Friday evening and to be honest folks I'm flagging. I stayed up the previous night until after 3am watching the General Election results. Mrs O'May is going cap in hand to the DUP in Northern Ireland to form a coalition - with rumours she'll be attending the World Cup qualifier away to Azerbaijan. I'm still stewing that Mansfield have voted Conservatives in - the mining families have very short memories in that neck of the woods.

I meet Ms Moon in a Wetherspoons professional drinking environment next to Notts cricket ground, called the Trent Bridge Inn. We have a swift pint, before I cross the river into The Embankment beer garden for a quick scoop or two. It's lights out at 10pm as I'm fagged out from the night before.

Ms Moon is off to the Cotswolds for the weekend for a family get together and to watch her sister play cello in a quartet. Sticky Palms is champing at the bit for a full-on day. It's bloody mayhem where we live, close to Nottingham Racecourse - the Detonate Festival is on. A couple of years ago at the fag end of the festival, I was at a cashpoint on Daleside Road where I found a youth dressed up as a banana splayed out on the garage forecourt. He was that sozzled that he couldn't stand up, and kept slipping on his banana skin.

I'm driving up to Copper on Mapperley Tops for breakfast. I get stuck behind a Honda Civic with a Chesterfield scarf draped across the rear window. The private number plate is MO55 E. It's in honour of prolific ex Spireites striker Ernie Moss, who sadly now is suffering from Pick's Disease, a rare form of dementia, possibly caused by heading a football repeatedly.

I wolf down a full English accompanied with a pot of lemon tea. I clock Liverpool youth footballer, 16-year-old Jack Bearne, having some breakfast with his mum. He recently signed for Liverpool from Notts County for £150,000, plus add-ons.

Roberto is Italian bred so he's bound to have lined-up some ice cream vans and some wood-fired pizzas for the lads. He'll be sporting a sharp, slim-fit Armani suit that he can prowl the touchline in.

I make the short trip across town to the Forest Recreation Ground on Gregory Boulevard. I stumble across joint managers Roberto and Ian Lowe poring over team selection scribbled out on some fish and chip paper on a car bonnet - blimey Charlie, they're taking it seriously.

I'd expected Cambridge to have arrived by boat and jumped on a tram. Disappointingly they've rocked up in a minibus. Rumours are quashed that Dion Dublin is in the visitors' line-up. They do cough up that a former Cameroon international is in their ranks. It's no problem if it's Roger Milla, as he's definitely over 35 years old.

There's an unexpected invitation for Sticky Palms into the inner sanctum of the home dressing room. Roberto has an initiation ceremony for the new boys. They belt out the Madness classic 'It Must Be Love.' I have to pick the two worst singers. The lads are egging me on to pick 'Lenchy' - his mate 'Mushy' isn't much better either. They end up with a game of 'Play Your Cards Right' which concludes with most folk getting pied with shaving foam, with poor old Roberto bearing the brunt of it. It reminds me of Tiswas.

Roberto delivers a powerful, passionate emotional and misty-eyed speech, despite being lathered in shaving foam. I tell you something, had it been Roberto in the dressing room at half-time in Japan 2002 and not Sven, when England played 10 man Brazil, I reckon we'd have gone on to win the game

'Wingy' stands up and says on behalf on the lads that Roberto should take pride and recognition for his continuous efforts in raising monies for the less fortunate. I can see one or two of the lads welling up. It's a moving moment for all of us in the room. Well done 'Wingy.' The boys worship Roberto, who's too selfless to realise this. They hang on to his every word.

'Micky Flanagan' (Rocky) is in the AC team. I'm gutted that he doesn't do a short stand-up routine to settle the boys' nerves down. Some of the donations by the lads warm the cockles of your heart. Carl Regan chucks in £50 and two free MOT's for the man of the match. A guy who runs a pub on Mapperley Tops hands over £350 raised by his customers. The boys pass over £20 notes, Roberto asks them if they want £10 back, every single one of them, to a man, declines.

I've totally forgotten that I've a football match to write about, as the pre-match amble has taken over events. Referee Jevon Swinscoe has kindly given his services for free. The lads on both sides don't give him an ounce of bother.

I'm not going to describe each goal in detail, because if I'm honest I'm chinwagging too much. Radford 'Director of Football' Big Glenn Russell has chucked money in the pot. He wants to discuss all the new players he's signed on. I tell him I haven't got two hours free - he's filled out more registration forms than Barry Fry.

John Manders looks lively up top for AC. I used to rate him when he played for Radford. A sun-tanned Carter and bearded Vipond boss the midfield, whilst the 'Clifton Colossus' David Hawkes has a cigar on in the centre of a back three. AC have a stranglehold on the game as the goals begin to flow. Manders, McDermott (not Terry) have bagged a few already.

Cambridge are still on the 'team boat' as AC charity swarm all over them. They sneak on a paperboy in the second game, who helps himself to a hat-trick. It would have been more had it not been for some smart low-down saves from 'Big Sam Ralph.'

The goal of the game is in the second match, with Cambridge blowing out their asses. 'Wingy' is a bag of tricks down the left-hand side, he delivers a pearler of a cross with the sweetest of left foots, which is headed home by Manders (I think ?). Roberto strips off and comes on in a cameo role for the final five minutes, showing a few flicks and tricks down the left wing

I've been tasked with looking after the charity money. I've got close-on a 'Grand' in my pocket. I decide to walk down Gregory Boulevard to the Grosvenor for post-match drinks and a chip butty. Hell's teeth, it's a bit tasty around here, I'm ripe for picking.

It's a relief to reach the pub. Roberto's pleased to see me as he thought I'd done an Arthur Fowler and waltzed off with all the lolly.. If this guy doesn't win BBC Unsung Hero for Nottingham later in the year, then I'll eat my Spanish hat.

Man of the Match: Roberto

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Summer - Back on July 15th

Bristol City, Shrewsbury Town, Crawley Town, Luton Town, Swindon Town, AFC Fylde, Wrexham, Blyth Spartans, FC United of Manchester, Spennymoor Town, Marine, Hereford FC, Bamber Bridge, Colwyn Bay, Clitheroe, Ramsbottom United, Runcorn Town, Silsden AFC,  Thackley AFC, Atherton Collieries, Godmanchester Rovers, Thrapston Town, Northampton ON Chenecks, Peterborough Sports, Coventry Copsewood, Studley, Bewdley Town, Campion, Appleby Frodingham, Collingham, Sherwood Colliery, Tideswell United, Sandiacre Town and Bingham Town.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Southport 1-1 Lincoln City

The company I work for has its financial year end on Friday. The heat is on to bring home the bacon. I alleviate a wee bit of pressure on Tuesday evening with a stroll around Rushcliffe Country Park, before making the short journey to the ROKO Health Club in West Bridgford.

The Notts Senior League is at the fag end of the season. Magdala are playing title-chasing Clifton All Whites. Some would say the highlight of the game is a 25-yard free kick dispatched into the top corner by mercurial striker Ben Clark. I preferred a failed scorpion kick attempt by a spectator, who was trying to tap an alehouse clearance back into play. The match ball finds its way through a small hole in the fence, leaving a scurrying, red-faced supporter chasing the ball through the car park before it ends up in rush hour traffic on Wilford Lane.

It's 6 pm on Friday evening, I'm finally shutting down my laptop for the weekend. I've landed a couple of big orders at the close of play. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.  I'm so exhausted that I haven't the energy for my usual start of the weekend stroll and early doors activity at the Trent Bridge Inn or King Billy in Sneinton.

Ms Moon is excited on Friday evening. She has been monitoring the fluctuating prices of hotels in the docks area of Liverpool on She pounces upon a two night deal in the Malmaison boutique hotel on Princes Dock, including breakfast.

It's not even 8 am on Saturday and I'm already parking up at Costa Coffee on Daleside Road. Ms Moon is not at her best on early starts. I'm hoping a large skinny latte can keep her calm. Dermot O'Leary bangs out some decent tunes as we head up the M6 north. I grimace my way through the nauseating Graham Norton and that daft agony aunt he has on each week.

We drive painstakingly through four junctions of 50 mph speed restrictions before jumping onto the M58. We're pulling teeth again in Ormskirk, as the town is gridlocked with traffic. A stressed out Sticky Palms pulls into some godforsaken retail park on the outskirts of Southport. A full English breakfast restores inner calm in Tesco. One or two Lincoln fans are knocking about and in the party mood.

We head up to Haig Avenue, home of Southport FC. The Sandgrounders were founded in 1881 and are currently managed by former Stockport County and Blackpool striker Andy Preece. Both Mark Wright and Peter Davenport have previously managed the club.

Southport is a large seaside town in Merseyside, with a population of 90,000. Its attractions include Lord Street, a tree-lined boulevard in the town centre, once the home of Napoleon III of France. The town is at the centre of the English Golf Coast, with nearby Royal Birkdale Golf Club hosting the 2017 British Open Championship. On the 9th December 1886 the worst lifeboat disaster in England occurred off the Southport coast. A cargo ship on its way to South America got in difficulty in storm-force winds. Twenty-eight lifeboat crew lost their lives that night.

Born or raised notable folk from Southport include: Soft Cell singer Marc Almond, Confessions actor Robin Askwith, golfer Tommy Fleetwood, comedian Lee Mack, Red Rum's trainer 'Ginger' McCain, actor Sir Anthony Quayle, actress Miranda Richardson, goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer, who won a European Cup winners medal twice, footballer Jack Rodwell, historian A J P Taylor and chef Marcus Wareing. On the 11th October 2016 actress Jean Alexander, who played Coronation Street nosy parker Hilda Ogden, celebrated her 90th birthday. A few days later she passed away in Southport Hospital.

The Southport DJ has put some thought into their set. The Stone Roses and Joy Division are the pick of the bunch. A lady PA announcer sportingly congratulates the Imps on their title win and plays 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond. Southport show some class by forming a guard of honour for the Lincoln players and staff.

Over two and a half thousand visiting supporters have made the 300-mile round trip. Manager Danny Cowley has made wholesale changes of late. Only four regulars start. Sticky's favourite, Terry Hawkridge, is playing in the unfamiliar position of left back.

City soon get a grip on the game. They open the scoring through Peterborough United on loan striker Lee Angol after unselfish work by the impressive Jack Muldoon. Big Lincoln striker Matt Rhead is proper showboating. His touch is deft and outrageous. His headers and chest-downs are played into a colleagues path. He sees an effort come off the woodwork.

Lincoln are trying to run the clock down and are playing with ten men, due to an Angol injury, after already subbing three players in a triple change. Southport are awarded a free kick out on the far right touchline. Neil Ashton pings in a ball which hangs in the wind, it sails over the Lincoln 'keeper who is 'cleaning windows' to give Southport a share of the spoils and deny the Imps a 100 points total. Danny and Nicky Cowley will be cross.

There's a bit of a commotion outside the ground. Traffic has come to a standstill. A rather uncouth and rotund Southport supporter is shouting out that he'll 'stab you all' to the Lincoln City supporters. We watch on with amusement as the local plod try to restrain the blithering idiot.

We finally rock up at the Malmaison in Liverpool after a tortuous drive and a Ms Moon hissy-fit with the new sat nav. The evening is spent in the real ale region of town. I tick off a few good pub guide entries before a revisit to the delightful Liverpool Philharmonic Rooms - a beautifully preserved Victorian pub on Hope Street. We return to the Malmaison; Sticky is particularly worse for wear.

I'm still hanging on Sunday morning, as we walk down the docks and into a much-needed breeze that'll hopefully blow away the cobwebs. We jump on a tour bus and enjoy the guides one-line gags before alighting at Queens Square and heading up to Goodison Park on the No.19 bus.

The place is already bustling with folk despite it being still 90 minutes before kick off. I love the preamble and build up before a game, but often fret about collecting tickets. I managed to bag two tickets for £39 each on the StubHub, so I'm pretty chuffed with myself. Ms Moon loves a big game.

I clock a foreign supporter sporting one of those awful half and half scarves, posing in front of the Dixie Dean memorial statue. I feel the red mist descend. I would have said something, but the bloke looks as hard as nails and would have probably sparked me out.

We take our seats up in the heavens on the second to back row. The view of the ground is stunning. I first came here in 1986 with Nottingham Forest. Dave Watson scored two for the Toffees that day on his debut. An ashen-faced Ms Moon returns from the refreshment bar having just parted with £5 for a bottle of water and a bag of Starburst - Opal Fruits in old money. Welcome to the Premier League, 'Princess.'

The teams trot out to the Z Cars theme tune. It's a relief once all the pomp and ceremony is over and the game finally kicks off. Everton are unfortunate to see an effort come back off the woodwork in the first minute. Chelsea start to get a stranglehold on the game. Diego Costa is rinsing the two Everton central defenders. He turns them inside out and is a joy to watch, including his theatrics and childish behaviour when decisions don't go his way.

Chelsea up the gears in the second half and score a wonderful goal through the Tenerife-born Pedro. Cahill scores a second before Willian kills off any chance of a comeback. Everton are without pace. One or two regulars are injured, but the highly rated Lukaku and Bartley flatter to deceive, with the crowd getting on their backs. Only Tom Davies rises above the mediocrity.

Man of the Match: Jack Muldoon

Attendance: 3,462

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Colne 0-0 Droylsden

We're staying in the Holiday Inn just outside Royal Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire; it's bloody awful to be honest. We don't give two hoots. After a failed attempt and a Sticky Palms 'red mist moment', we finally jump into a cab and head into town. There's a warm welcome at the Cricketers Arms before being tipped the wink about the White Horse down the road.

A lot of folk are 'sniffing' behind closed doors in the toilets when I waltz in - I thought I was on the Avenue in West Bridgford for a brief moment. Evening dinner is taken in the glorious Good Pub Guide main entry - the Star and Garter, before retiring to bed at 'Fawlty Towers.'The weekend is topped off with a stroll around Charlecote Park, a National Trust owned 16th-century country house on the banks of the River Avon, surrounded by deer.

It's Easter Monday and I feel worse for wear after scoffing a Guinness Easter egg and a few glasses of Chateauneuf-du-pape on Sunday evening, both kindly bought as gifts by Ms Moon. I walk off the after effects and head down towards Meadow Lane. Paul Cook's Pompey are in town and in party mood. If results go their way the 5,000 travelling army can celebrate promotion to League One.

The pubs around Trent Bridge and close to the ground are stacked out with folk. I stroll along the banks of the Trent, crossing over the Wilford Suspension Bridge. I notice a kiosk is open, adjacent to the old Town Arms pub, which is soon to re-open as a Brewhouse and Kitchen, with its own microbrewery and 50 craft beers. I buy some fruit pastilles and mints for the match. It might freshen up my pallet and kill off any bad breath that is hanging around.

I meet 'The Taxman' outside Notts County's main entrance. I admire all the Pompey fans who have taken the time-out to have photos posing next to the Jimmy Sirrel and Jack Wheeler statue. We take a pew in the Derek Pavis Stand. Portsmouth are different gravy. They pass Notts off the park. Their fans invade the pitch at the final whistle. Notts County owner Alan Hardy shows a touch of class by allowing the players and fans to celebrate together.

I'm loving my football right now, even though it's the fag end of the season. I meet my two boys on Tuesday evening for tea at the Gamston Lock, before sloping off to Regatta Way to watch champions elect West Bridgford FC. There's a classic smash and grab performance from local rivals Radcliffe Olympic, who nick a goal at the death to leave Bread 'n Lard Island FC needing four points from their final two games to lift the East Midlands Counties League title.

I'm at a works' leaving do at The Embankment for a big Nottingham Forest fan on Friday evening. He watches 'The Lincoln' now and again, so I make a special effort to attend. Four pints is enough for me these days, particularly when it's between 4.5% - 5.5% ABV.

I make the fatal mistake of checking-in with Ms Moon who is on the sauce back at HQ with a mate. "Can you call in at KFC for some supper ?" Bloody hell, I hate that place and the incompetent buffoons that work there. I'm told there's a fifteen-minute wait for chicken on arrival- the red mist descends again.

We're up and out the door at ten bells. It's a bit of a trek up to Colne. Ms Moon is feeling rather chipper that she can flick around with the DAB radio. Frank Skinner has too much rattle on Absolute. I listen to Graham Norton through gritted teeth. Although I do have a 'Dad dancing' moment (despite piloting) to Mai Tai's 1985 hit, 'History.'

We turn onto the M62 and M606, skirting around the edge of Bradford city centre, before heading up the Keighley Road. The Dog and Gun at Glusburn is as good as it gets. It's my third visit. I have a pint of Mary Jane pale ale from the Ilkley Brewery. The homemade steak and potato pie is a steal at £7.95. Ms Moon mops up fish, chips and mushy peas.

Colne is a town in Lancashire six miles north-east of Burnley, with a population just shy of 20,000. With the Industrial Revolution, cotton manufacturing became the main industry in the town. By 1891 there were over 30 cotton mills in the town. Notable people born or raised in the town include: Wallace Hartley, bandleader on the RMS Titanic, Sir William Pickles Hartley, the jam manufacturer and Natalie Gumede, who played Kirsty Soames in Coronation Street.

It's a beautiful sunny day. We both fall in love with Colne immediately. It has bags of character and history. I'm desperate to see the memorial bust of Wallace Hartley. I ask a lady in the library for directions, she says it's on the other side of town. The Titanic sunk at 11:40pm on April 14th 1912. When all hope was lost, Hartley moved the band onto the deck, with one of their final tunes being the Star Spangled Banner. Over 40,000 people lined the streets of Colne for Hartley's funeral.

Ms Moon is queuing for coffee in an independent coffee shop as I people-watch a few drunks swaying and shouting outside the Duke of Lancaster on the High Street. I have a tearful moment to myself as I watch Lincoln City run the clock down on 'Live Scores.' Two goals from the twinkle-toed Terry Hawkridge sees the Imps over the finishing line and back in the Football League. I take a stroll down the street. Imran Khan's barber's shop is doing a roaring trade. Blimey, Jemima must have taken him for a few bob if the poor sod has to cut hair.

There's a respected groundhopper writing a book called '100 Grounds to Die For', if he's not been here I'll kick myself. I'm gobsmacked with the sweeping views down into the town and up into the hills.

Colne need something from the game to ensure a play-off spot. Droylsden, from Greater Manchester, are playing for pride. I'm mystified by this, as I saw them up in Lancaster before Christmas when they played a beautiful game of football.

Over 500 fans have rolled up to support their community club. Manager, Stephen Cunningham, lives and breathes the Club - it will be a great achievement to finish in the top 5.

Colne spurn an early chance, Adam Morning fluffs an opportunity with only the 'keeper to beat. The Bloods of Droylsden pick up from when I last saw them up in Lancaster. Their game is uncomplicated. The passing is beautiful and purposeful. It's only in the final third where they fail to produce.

The guy next to me is all tracksuited up. When you scout you should just blend in with the crowd and call people's bluff. I find out in seconds who he's watching. The game's got 0-0 written all over it (again). I don't get Cunningham's tactics as they put 10 men behind the ball. Maybe he knows Trafford are losing, so a play-off spot is secured.

In the second half Colne drop deeper and deeper. Droylsden are always on the ball, but lack creativity. The brilliant Colne fans see their team over the finishing line after a few late scares. Cunningham punches the air with delight. Farsley Celtic, near to Leeds, will be their play-off opponents.

Attendance: 568

Man of the Match: Wallace Hartley, Bandleader of the Titanic.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stratford Town 4-1 Kettering Town

'The Lincoln' are at home versus Chester on Tuesday evening. The Taxman is riding shotgun. We're sailing down the A46 in 'Magnum' - my new wheels. I stick the car at the back of Robey Street, where my Nana used to live in warden-aided accommodation. Time is on our side. 'The Taxman' treats me to a chippy tea at a pop-up shop on the High Street. We collect our tickets and park our backsides in the Software Europe Stand.

I'm desperate to see the Imps back in the Football League. The only reason we got relegated was because of that blithering idiot Chris Sutton and his disastrous tenure as manager. I view the game through gritted teeth, kicking every ball inside my head. We nick a goal in the first half and see the game out despite playing the last 25 minutes with ten men, after a straight red card for a pumped-up Alan Power. Gateshead manager Neil Aspin is sat a few seats away from me. The Imps are due up the north east on Easter Bank Holiday Monday. Richard Dryden is also in the stands. Neil Warnock, when manager of Notts County, paid Exeter City £250,000 for his services in 1991.

The weekend can't come quick enough. I quaff a few pints at the Six Barrel Drafthouse on Thursday evening, as Ms Moon sees off a bottle of prosecco. Good Friday is spent traditionally with Leicester City diehard Mr Trumpy Bolton. We had hoped to commence battle over Pop Master on Radio 2 at 10:30 am. Sadly, I'm not picking up the Legend until 11:00 am. He's loitering on a street corner as I squeeze the car down Spinney Road in Keyworth.

Trumpy's all excited about the return leg of the European Cup against Atletico Madrid at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday. He called for Ranieri's head long before the players downed tools and took sides with 'Shakey.' The running and sprint statistics versus Liverpool (Shakespeare's first game in charge) are embarrassing compared to Ranieri's final few matches at the helm.

We pretty much toss a coin as whether to head up the A614 or down the A46 - Sticky's mucked up, the traffic is gridlocked in Newark. First tick off is the recently refurbished Blacksmiths in Clayworth. Bolton necks a pint and a half as Sticky broods over his diet coke. We're soon back on the road again; Trumpy's keen on The Sweyn Forkbeard a Wetherspoons in Gainsborough.

Gainsborough Trinity's Northolme ground is only a few minutes drive away. Bolton turns his nose up at the Worthington's Creamflow bitter. He swills some of my J2o blackcurrant around his mouth to freshen up his taste buds.

Trinty's ground is a belter. The last time I came here, over 10 years ago, Droylsden were the visitors. I remember chatting to a dad of a player. The lad was called Jamie Tandy - best remembered for having a cigar stubbed out in his face by Joey Barton at the Manchester City Christmas Party. I was saddened to read that Tandy himself appeared in court in 2015 for beating up his partner. It was said in court that he had twice tried to take his own life.

We sit at the back of the Ping Stand. A group of young lads are being mischevious. Trumpy Bolton keeps his beady eye on them. Salford have a Billy Smart's Circus moment, Trinity forward Nathan Jarman seizes upon the opportunity and finds the bottom corner of the net with a smart finish, Salford throw the kitchen sink at them. Efforts hit the woodwork and shots are scuffed and shanked, with the home 'keeper making a 'worldy' at the death.

It's Saturday morning and part two of my footballing fiesta. I race down to Netherfield Retail Park, bag a pair of shoes from Next, fill up the car with petrol and grab Ms Moon a Costa coffee, before hitting the M1 and M69. We're back on DAB radio again, as part of the package of my new wheels. The downside is that Ms Moon has tuned into Absolute 80s.

I've clocked the White Swan Hotel on Rother Street in Stratford-upon-Avon. I fancy a tipple and Ms Moon is gagging for a coffee. The hotel dates back to 1450. We mull over the morning papers, lounging in Chesterfield leather chairs. The hotel is one for the notebook, particularly when there's a deal on.

The sun peeps out from behind some white fluffy clouds as we amble down the banks of the River Avon. Lunch is taken at another cracking Good Pub Guide entry called Encore, before taking the short trip to Tiddington, home of Stratford Town FC.

I've blogged 'The Hop' for over 10 years now. I first came here in 2010 and saw one of the most beautifully executed goals by Dunkirk FC's Darren Garmston. Kettering Town are today's visitors. They are coached by my good mate John Ramshaw.

We're situated 20 yards to the left of the away dugout. 'Rammers' must be getting proper nesh in his old age. I've seen him wear short sleeve tops and shorts in sub-zero temperatures. Today I clock him striding across the pitch in a full tracksuit.

It's not long before 'Rammers' is pulling his hair out. On three minutes a free kick is punted forward, the 'keeper is rooted to his line as George Forsyth powers home a header. Rene Howe and Nottingham-born Aaron O'Connor are leading the line for the Poppies; they have a wealth of experience. Their finishing prowess sadly deserts them. It's left to 17-year-old winger Ben Baker to show the veterans how it's done with a cool finish on the half-hour.

Ms Moon has spotted 'Jack the Collie' on her way back from the tea hut. He has his head through a hole in an advertising hoarding. I get gassing to his owner. Jack never takes his eye off the ball and is not interested in any fuss or being stroked. He sulks like a big baby when the referee scoops up the match ball having blown the whistle for half-time.

Kettering take a pummelling in the second half as one or two of them throw the towel in. 'Jack the Collie' has got it on him at the final whistle as the ball is put away for another week. He'll be climbing the walls until next Saturday when he watches Leamington FC down the road in their final home game of the season.

Attendance: 309

Man of the Match: Jack the Collie

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bradford Park Avenue 0-0 FC United of Manchester

We exit the Software Europe Stand at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank. The Imps have secured a 1-0 victory versus Bromley FC. I've not enjoyed the game one iota. It's a scruffy, nervous and tired performance. The city's Steep Hill is negotiated with the minimum of fuss. Ms Moon has completed the course for the third occasion - it's a walk in the park when you've kicked the ciggies into touch.

I spot an elderly couple gripping a rail, and gasping for air. I offer to lug their belongings up to a nearby hotel where they are spending the night. We finally dive into the Magna Carta at the top of the hill for a well-earned beverage or two, before jumping on the choo-choo back to Nottingham. Prosecco and local ales are polished off at the Crafty Crow opposite Nottingham Castle.

Sunday is Doomsday. It has slipped my mind that I'd promised Ms Moon a shopping spree up at McArthurGlenn off Junction 28 on the M1. We wolf down a first class breakfast on Mapperley Top, at Copper Cafe, before the daunting trip up to Mansfield. I can't get out the joint quick enough. I tick-off Jeff Banks and Calvin Klein. Ms Moon is beaming from ear to ear after a successful shop.

It's the week from hell on the road as a client relationship manager. There are fleeting visits to Southampton, Gosport, Salisbury and Hereford before returning home for the weekend. I receive a text from 'The Zuffler' that reads 'RIP legendary DJ Brian Matthew.' Regular readers will know that Sticky and Murphy the budgie loved listening to 'Uncle Brian' on his 60s show on a Saturday morning on Radio 2. It turns out to be a massive faux pas by the BBC. Brian Matthew remains critically ill in hospital. He hasn't died, despite his employer reporting he has.

I hear the hooting and tooting of a car horn outside the house. My mate Lee is sat in a magnum grey Ford Mondeo Titanium. It's Sticky's new wheels. I cruise up the M1 North on Friday evening, before turning off at Junction 33. Sat Nav guides me in to Rotherham Titans Rugby Club.

Ms Moon is walking over hot coals, at a temperature of over 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, for charity. I need to cool down myself first, so sink a pint of real ale in the plush clubhouse. A pumped-up 'Princess' emerges from the changing room after a 'Neil Warnock' type team-talk. Her name is shouted out in a WWE style. The good lady keeps her nerve, gracefully negotiating the glowing coals. A couple of Strongbow ciders are necked, accompanied with pie, chips 'n mushy peas, before retiring for a few more sociable ones at the Ibis in Rotherham.

We check-out the hotel before a McDonald's breakfast on a soulless retail park. It's full of greasy old hairy bikers. There's an emotional goodbye in the Ibis car park, reminiscent of Scarlett and Rhett in Gone With The Wind - I'll be back in time for Ant 'n Dec's Saturday Takeaway, unfortunately.

I'm picking up 'The Skipper' from Leeds Beckett University; that's if the lazy so and so is out of his pit. It's great to be reunited with DAB radio (and my youngest son). Colin Murray is on flames as he hosts the award-winning 'Fighting Talk' on Five Live. They mention about the best final farewells in sport. Take a look at Kevin Keegan's at St James' Park on You Tube, it's amazing. He shakes hands with a 13-year-old Alan Shearer before being whisked away in a helicopter to pastures new.

'The Skipper lives next door to the 'Emmerdale Experience.' It's a bit too early to sup an ale poured by Amos Brearley or Mr Wilks. We head out towards the Pennines above Bradford. I've picked out a pub in the village of Thornton, with its stone built houses. The Bronte sisters were born here at 74 Market Street.

We're welcomed by a cheery landlord. I have a pint of Timothy Taylor's pale ale, while Joe has a bottle of fruit cider. Lunch is taken in a sun-drenched beer garden, as we enjoy the sweeping views of the landscape.

Bradford Park Avenue's Horsfall Stadium is a 20-minute drive away. Friendly stewards direct us to the Park Road car park on the far side of the ground. On entry I bag a programme, buy some raffle tickets and donate to the Salvation Army.

Bradford is a city in the foothills of the Pennines. Famous people born and bred include: singer Tasmin Archer, cricketers David and Jonny Bairstow, James' lead singer Tim Booth, Sooty and Sweep gloveman Harry Corbett, footballers Len Shackleton and Fabian Delph, magician Dynamo, comedian Adrian Edmondson, 'singers' Gareth Gates and Kimberley Walsh, World snooker champion Joe Johnson, One Direction member Zayn Malik (sorry about that one), swimmer Adrian Moorhouse, novelist J B Priestley and Countdown host Richard Whiteley.

Bradford Park Avenue was founded in 1907. In 1970 they were replaced in the Football League by Cambridge United. The club went into liquidation in 1974 with debts of £57,000.

There's nothing on the game and I fear a 0-0 - I've not seen one at a new ground since North Allerton in September. We walk a full circuit of the ground. One or two folk on groundhopping sites have a moan 'n groan about the athletics track that sits on the perimeter of the community stadium. This is compensated by the panoramic views of the countryside,  rewarded by the climb of concrete steps on the far side of the ground. The DJ is playing a set from his indy iTunes faves - not published on twitter.

Both teams are safe from relegation. If they don't put a shift in, it's got 0-0 written all over it. FC United appear to have packed up their buckets, spades and sunhats for their end of season jollies. The first half is lacklustre, to say the least. We bask in the sunshine with the FC United faithful.

It has a proper end of season feel about it, with FC barely breaking sweat. People-watching is the winner in the first half. One or two from FC (supporters) have been on the sauce. There's the stench of spliffs wafting about in the air. Some guy next to us, so bored with what is being served up, is threatening to do roly-polies on the steep grass bank behind the goal at half-time - it would blow the DJ's set to smithereens.

The second half picks up a bit. We've moved down the other end, away from a foul-mouthed FC fan. BPA look the more likely to score, despite FC United fluffing an early chance. We witness the BPA No.15 get between the 'keeper and defender and from 6 yards, with a gaping goal, he tries to walk the ball into an empty net. He's caught dilly-dallying by a last-ditch tackle.

Neither side have the energy, effort or ability to carve out a decent chance. We troop back to the car, despondent, on the far side of the ground to catch up on the scores on Five Live.

Man of the Match: Brian Matthew (RIP aged 88)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Lincoln City 1-0 Bromley

I felt exhausted last Saturday afternoon watching beer-drinking genius Trumpy Bolton in action at the Hive in Barnet. It was like poetry in motion as he potted scoop after scoop like a seasoned pro. I take it easy on Sunday, relaxing with Ms Moon and her Mum at the refurbished dining pub, Caunton Beck, in the village of Caunton, close to Southwell and Newark.

I'm stood on the banks of the River Trent, with a rather chipper Taxman, on Tuesday evening, adjacent to Sat Bains restaurant - the only two-star Michelin eatery in Nottinghamshire. We're not here for the posh nosh - it's more muck 'n nettles as Dunkirk and Radford go into battle on Lenton Lane.

Radford manager, Big Glen Russell ain't too pleased to see Sticky rocking up, as I'm a proper Jonah. He says 'eh up' but that's about it. It's a wonderful game of football with an ebb and flow about it. Radford claw their way back from 2-0 down, but finally run out of steam and ideas. Glen's on his best behaviour this evening after a misdemeanour the other week. I sneak past the dugout without catching his eye. I bump into a smiling Ian Upton when exiting the ground. I loved blogging the Boatmen when 'Uppo' and Dave Harbottle were joint managers.

It's been a frustrating week at work. I'm pleased to knock off on Friday afternoon. I stroll up to Enterprise car hire on Daleside Road, as my new Ford Mondeo Titanium is not due for delivery until Friday. I need a runaround for Monday and Tuesday as I'm in Southampton on business. 'Kip Keino' has given up the ghost. I think the clutch or gearbox is kaput.

I wander down 'Bread 'n Lard Island' (West Bridgford) before returning to Trent Bridge. I saunter past County Hall and cross over the Wilford Suspension Bridge, before heading through the Meadows where great footballers such as Jermaine Pennant, Wes Morgan and Pedro Richards were born and raised.

It's a glorious day. I have my fleece draped over my shoulder. I'm sweating buckets and gasping for air when I finally reach Listergate. I grab a copy of the popular cult football magazine When Saturday Comes from WHSmith and have a browse through it, whilst sinking a few real ales in the Herbert Kilpin, Six Barrel Drafthouse and the Curious Tavern in the hipster area of Hockley, next to the Lace Market.

I'm fagged out when I finally return home at just gone 6 pm. I must have clocked up some miles on the old 'plates of meat.' Ms Moon and I try to book a cruise, but there's no room at the Inn. I quite fancied Dubrovnik and Athens. We'll have to wait until next year. Southern Spain will do for now.

I wake up early on Saturday morning. I'm usually excited and looking forward to a random Non-League game. Not so this morning. I'm a jibbering wreck and have already got that jabbing, knotting pain you get in the pit of your stomach. I'll make no bones about it, I'm really worried about the Imps run of form, as they enter the final furlong of a long title race. They've played something like 52 games already. Canny manager, Danny Cowley, has recruited shrewdly in the loan market. It takes time to bed-in new recruits; time we haven't got.

I took Sticky Jnr to his first Imps' game back in 1998. Falklands veteran, Phil 'Sergeant' Stant, was in the managerial hot seat. His assistant was former Mansfield Town player/manager George Foster. Lincoln were on a miserable run of form and lost again, 3-2, to Leyton Orient. 'Stanty' was a popular guy amongst the supporters. Sadly, not the same can be said of his pal, George. "Foster out" rang around the stadium, with 3-year-old Junior leading the chanting. Foster was relieved of his duties on Monday morning. I often remind Sticky Jnr that he cost somebody their job.

Ms Moon and I potter up to Nottingham Railway Station. Tickets are collected and a much-needed coffee shouted up, before jumping on the 11:29 am train to Lincoln Central. We're treated to some old lady ringing her entire contacts from her phone. We get the whole potted history of her dysfunctional family. I can't alight the choo choo quick enough onto the platform.

We head towards the Brayford Waterfront - it's England's oldest inland harbour. After eyeing up a number of eateries we opt for the Handmade Burger Company. James Brown's 'Sex Machine' is on the dukey. I have a Belgian blonde (beer) and wolf down a burger soaked in blue cheese sauce, quicker than Scooby Doo. There's a nice ambience about the place and it manages to take my mind off the football for a short while until I check the Live Scores app - Tranmere Rovers have beaten Wrexham 1-0 at the Racecourse Ground. They're now top and slowly turning the screw. My stomach begins to churn again.

I collect the matchday tickets. We park ourselves to the rear of the Software Europe Stand. The DJ's set is not a patch on Salford City, Radcliffe Borough or Brackley Town. I'm clutching at straws when I say that 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond is the pick of a very average set.

Bromley FC are the visitors. I recently read a hilarious book by devoted fan Dave Roberts who followed them home and away for the whole of last season after returning home from the USA. Notable folk born in Bromley include: H G Wells, Pixie Lott, Peter Frampton and Clash drummer Topper Headon.

Ten minutes before kick-off, 95-year-old George 'Johnny' Johnson, the last surviving Dam Buster pilot from 617 Squadron, emerges from the tunnel to rapturous applause from the Sincil Bank faithful, and the 80 Bromley fans who have made the long trip north. It's right up there with any moving, touching and emotional moment I have ever witnessed in 45 years of watching football.

The game is scrappy. Lincoln hit the ball forward early. We look disjointed, nervous and short on confidence. Nathan Arnold is like a fish out of water on the wide left. Harry Anderson's first touch, on the right flank, deserts him time and time again, as the pressure begins to mount with a hard-working Bromley putting ten players behind the ball.

There's an opportunity to alleviate the pressure on 25 minutes, but a poorly taken penalty by Alan Power is comfortably dealt with by the Bromley 'keeper. The visitors enjoy a good spell of possession. Minshull and Higgs look comfortable on the ball. A cleverly worked free-kick sees a thunderous 20 yard shot cannon back off the woodwork.

The Lincoln PA man, Alan Long, is having a 'Weston' at half-time. Music stops playing from out of the speakers. Alan tries to salvage the situation. It sounds like the faulty microphone set that 70s northern comedian Norman Collier used to master on the Wheeltappers and Shunters Club.

Lincoln are desperate for a goal. I'm getting uptight. I've barely breathed a word to Ms Moon at the break. I'm not the only one who has 'got it on him.' Lincoln 'big cheese' Matt Rhead has moaned and groaned at anyone willing to listen to him for most of the game. It's hardly appropriate to go 'big time' when you only notched four goals in five months.

The Imps are well off colour and can barely string two passes together. Cowley makes a double sub. The impact is instant. Ginnelly and Lee Angol tee up Billy Knott, who sweeps home a daisy-cutter into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. The relief is enormous. Lincoln see the game out to grab what might turn out to be a valuable three points, come the end of the season.

Attendance: 6,843

Man of the Match 'Johnny' Johnson RAF 617 Squadron